Over the years I have tried many, many, many different techniques to reduce stress. In my experience, the technique used is unimportant – it can be meditation, but it can also be breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, whatever. The regular practice of the technique is what allows me to recall the relaxation response in times of stress to return my usually involuntary body functions back to their normal, unstressed rates.
I have found that my best and favorite techniques are walking meditation, guided imagery, reiki, and breathing. While most techniques when practiced regularly and with intention will provide relief from stress and often also from pain, I think the tendency is for us to gravitate to one or two which fit into our lifestyle and belief system. I had been meditating for decades, and using guided imagery and reiki for the same, but breathing practice always was an issue. I used to sing for recreation when I was young and still automatically practice diaphragmatic breathing. But whenever I tried to do a breathing meditation or slow, controlled breathing practice I would always feel like I couldn’t catch my breath (as in a panic) and it would actually add to the tension in my body, and to my stress. Although over time I developed some control and slowed my normal breathing rate, I could never understand what caused my breathing issues and I couldn’t fix them.
Fast forward to 2013 when I was enrolled in the Comprehensive Pain Management program at Sharp Hospital in San Diego. They did my intake and decided I needed to work on several areas, which included two types of biofeedback: muscle tension and cardio-respiratory. From the awareness that I developed through cardio-respiratory biofeedback, I learned that I hold my breath automatically when I am faced with a stressor, no matter the source. (I just caught myself holding my breath again, simply from retelling this.) It’s kind of like when you are watching a thriller movie and you know something really scary is going to happen and you take in a breath and hold it due to the suspense – I did this constantly. The more pain I had, the more stress I felt from the problems it added to my life, and the fewer regular breaths I took. I wasn’t breathing, yet we have to breathe to live! Is there any question why I felt like I was just going through the motions, and not really living?
I don’t know how many biofeedback sessions I had – probably only about four or five, but the technician also directed me to practice breathing daily using one of the free breathing smartphone apps. I tried MyCalmBeat and Breathe2Relax. I practiced twice a day – morning and evening – for 20 minutes. I started out with these apps and found that with regular practice, eventually I needed something that could handle an even slower breathing pace. So I found a metronome app called Metronome Beats and programmed it to fit the rate of breathing that brought me the best results. One day I woke up with an awful migraine headache and I found that when I had completed my breathing practice, my migraine was almost gone. Now I use this 20-minute, slow and controlled breathing exercise whenever I have a headache. This is the relaxation response at work!
Another benefit has been the effect on my blood pressure. I’d never had any issues with my blood pressure, historically it has been on the low side. But I would always be rushed when going to my doctor appointments and arrive breathless and with elevated blood pressure. I decided to ask the nurse to wait five minutes so the reading would be more accurate. For five minutes I would practice my slow breathing, and my blood pressure would return to normal. Then one day I forgot to ask for the five minute delay. So while my blood pressure was being taken I practiced the breathing, and it returned to normal, right then and there. For me, this is the reason to practice a stress reduction technique and develop the relaxation response. I can now call up this response on demand! I just have to always remember to do it when in the throes of stress.
WebMD has an overview of the uses and benefits of biofeedback here: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/biofeedback-therapy-uses-benefits.
Here is a Youtube video about MyCalmBeat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCickT8lLHE. Available for iPhone and Android.
Breathe2Relax: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEZ1dvZuJYc. Available for iPhone and Android.
Metronome Beats: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.andymstone.metronome&hl=en.
Available for Android.
#relaxationresponse #biofeedback #breathingpractice #mycalmbeat #breathe2relax #metronomebeats
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