Ideas that Spark

Get Your "Om" on

Running from yoga to the chiropractor and back is a stressful -- and expensive -- way to relieve str...

Overloaded with work, groceries, laundry, car pool and 150 other obligations? We get it. But if you think your schedule is too jam-packed to accommodate some downtime, think again. "People say, 'I’m too busy for anti-stress techniques,' but when you practice relaxation, you become more efficient at all your other tasks," says Bruce Rabin, MD, Ph.D., medical director of the Healthy Lifestyle Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "By investing in yourself, you actually create more time for yourself."

So take ten to get Zen every day using the tension tamers below. You’ll feel calmer, think more clearly, have the blues less often and just enjoy life more.

Breathe right
The way you take in O2 can directly influence your physical -- and mental -- tension levels. Shallow breathing (from your chest) actually causes shorter, more restless brain waves, while deeper breathing (from your abdomen), causes longer, slower brain waves that make you feel relaxed and calm. Deepen your breathing with this Healthy Lifestyle Program exercise: Place one hand over your belly button and one on your chest. Inhale, counting to 4 very slowly, making sure to feel more movement in your belly than your chest. As you exhale, count backwards from four very slowly. Repeat three to four times.

Create a giggle box
"There’s an area of the brain that becomes active when you think something is funny, and it’s wired to the brain’s stress area," Rabin says. "When you activate the humour area, you suppress the stress area." Keep side-splitting ideas at the ready by thinking of things that make you laugh and placing them in an imaginary box in your mind. When stress strikes, open the box and access a giggle.

Strike a pose
The cobra pose not only boosts your back strength and enhances flexibility, according to yoga instructor Stacey Lei Krauss, but it also melts tension right where it lives -- in your upper back, neck and shoulders. Begin lying face down on the ground with your hands by your sides. Bend your arms and press your palms down, underneath your shoulders. Press down on your hands and straighten your arms. Your hips should stay relaxed as you slowly shift your gaze upward and arch your back. Hold the position for a count of five, and then slowly lower down. Repeat three times.

Pick a perfect mantra
Whether it’s "All will be well," "God loves me," "I’m in control" or "Every little thing is gonna be all right," find a phrase that fortifies you emotionally. Practice saying it, or better yet, chanting it (Gregorian tune optional) when you’re happy. "You’re creating a Pavlovian response so your mind will associate your chant with being calm," Rabin explains. "Then when you’re tense, think of the chant, and your mind will automatically associate it with the happier time, and you’ll immediately calm down." There’s no right or wrong chant -- and no singing credentials are required.

Find your sacred space
Think of it as an emotional refuge, a place you go to hop off the treadmill that is your life. And it doesn’t have to be a Buddhist shrine in your living room -- or any physical space at all. It can be something you do, like sitting on a plush meditation pillow, lighting a scented candle (try lavender, eucalyptus, bergamot or sandalwood), holding a photo of a beach, a nature scene or any positive memory. The trick is to find the self-soother that works for you. And the more you practice it, the faster you’ll unwind each time.