Heather Stegmaier, M.AmSAT

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Entries in stress relief (4)


Please Don’t Take a Deep Breath

Our breath is essential to life. Just like digestion, it is an automatic bodily function that we don’t really need to think about. Or do we? When was the last time you thought about your breath: the quality of it, or how it affects your overall well-being?

As with most things, we don’t bring awareness to our breath until something goes wrong. If you’re feeling stressed out, you take a deep breath to attempt to calm yourself. This creates an on/off switch, going from not thinking about it in general to emergency mode when stressed.

Just as breath is essential to life, the overall functioning of our respiratory system is essential to our well-being. I will show you how you can bring awareness to your breath every day in order to create balance.

Try this now:

  1. Sitting quietly, pay attention to your breath right now. Don’t try to change anything. Simply observe. Are you holding your breath? Breathing shallowly or irregularly? If so, continue to just observe without making any changes.
  2. If you notice you are holding your breath, have a conscious thought to stop holding your breath. Just like sending a wish out to yourself, “I wish to not hold my breath.”
  3. Continue having this thought to not hold your breath. After a few moments, notice if anything changes. Your breath may become more frequent, or maybe you take a nice deep inhale without even trying.

This approach is more gentle for your system than the on/off approach of “take a deep breath” that is all too familiar. Think about it: If you are in a state of stress, your body is tight and your breath is held. Then all of a sudden, you are forcing yourself to take a deep inhale. All that tightness in your body caused by the stress is still present and your inhale is forced through the tightness.

The alternative approach described above applies the principles of the Alexander Technique to create a much more gentle response to stress:

  • First, you are bringing awareness to yourself and observing your breath. This is very powerful and gives you a lot of information about your stress reaction.
  • Second, rather than overriding what is happening in your body with action (e.g. taking a deep breath), you are asking to stop holding. This is like hitting the pause button and giving yourself time to create change. By wishing for not holding your breath, you are giving your body an opportunity to rid itself of tightness.
  • The act of undoing and stopping allows the body to recalibrate and return to its natural state of well-being. The breath will follow because steady breathing is an important piece of our natural functioning.

If you are a singer, actor, or wind player you know this all too well. Your craft relies on your breath. But even so, people who are using their breath skillfully can acquire many habits that can create issues with their respiratory functioning. Tightness and tension can very much interfere with and hinder sound quality.

The Alexander Technique offers many tools to create balance and better functioning surrounding your breath. This leads to overall well-being and feeling good!


Combat Coping with the Alexander Technique

We all find ways to cope with stress throughout the day. What’s your specialty? A few that come to my mind are:

  • Pretend everything is just fine; meanwhile, your blood is boiling and your jaw is clenched.
  • You are the good worker, always at the ready and working hard all day; meanwhile, your back is killing you and it hurts just to be upright.
  • Your coping mechanism has become such a habit that you don’t even know the difference between your real self and “getting through the day.” Meanwhile, you’re exhausted, at your wit’s end, and possibly have some serious health issues knocking at the door (anxiety, high blood pressure, chronic pain, or worse).

So when is it time to say, “Enough!”? When is it time to take control of the situation, rather than the situation having control over you?

I say the time is now. As in, this moment right now. Even for 30 seconds. Now.

But the question immediately becomes, “HOW?”

That’s where the Alexander Technique comes in. The Alexander Technique is a tool for living. Actually, I will rephrase that. The Alexander Technique is your tool for living. What that means is it gives you actual, real life skills to get through the day. Without coping and—eventually—without chronic pain.

The best part is, it’s all within your reach right now. Try this out:

  1. Bring awareness to yourself. Just check in–what’s going on?
  2. You may become aware of all the sensations that are your coping mechanism: tense muscles, clenched jaw, shallow (or non-existent) breathing, chronic pain… If so, recognize and acknowledge these sensations.
  3. Have a conscious thought to NOT REACT to these sensations. Say to yourself, “I am not reacting to these feelings and sensations I am experiencing.”

Now that you’ve spent 30 seconds or so receiving information about yourself, take 30 seconds to output information by giving yourself these directions:

  1. Think about your feet extending to and connecting with the floor.
  2. Think about your head rising up. Imagine the space above your head and the fact that you have all that space to expand into.
  3. You also have space to expand all over. Take a deep breath and just allow yourself to expand in all directions.
  4. Feet down, head up, back lengthening and widening—it’s all there for you.

Notice a difference? How do you feel after one minute of using these techniques to consciously change your experience of living? Share your experience in the comments below.

This is a brief taste of HOW the Alexander Technique can facilitate positive change in your life.

You deserve to live a life pain-free! It’s all there, right within your reach. The Alexander Technique is simply a tool for you to make it happen.

Stay tuned for more tips and techniques using the Alexander Technique! In the meantime, please share your experience on HOW this brief one-minute experiment changed your day in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!


Stop Stress Immediately: Incorporate These Three Steps

Stress and tension are a part of our daily lives. In fact, it has become the norm in our culture these days. When asked the simple question, “How are you?” a common response is often, “I’ve been so busy! Things have been stressful and crazy!” The stress in our lives creates tension in the body, which can lead to chronic pain.

No matter what type of stress you are under, the tension and pain are very real. Tension and pain are physical symptoms of our stressed out mental state.

I will take this one step further to say that stress is also a symptom. Stress is a mental symptom of our external environment.

So how do we stop this vicious cycle?

The solution lies in choice and conscious thought. When faced with a stress-full experience, situation, or environment follow these steps:

  1. Hit the pause button—before you “freak out” take one second to stop and bring awareness to yourself 
  2. Insert conscious thought—now that you’ve wedged a big old pause in-between your stress and freak out, insert some instructions for yourself by thinking (or saying out loud!), “I am not reacting to this situation.”
  3. Follow through—keep pausing, keep thinking, “I am not reacting…” Continue to bring awareness to yourself and your response to a stress-full situation.

By working on your reaction to stress-full things, you have the opportunity to override your physical reaction to stress. This results in less tension and gaining control over yourself and how you handle stress.

This powerful tool is called INHIBITION in the Alexander Technique. It is a very important step in gaining mastery over your mind and body.

This takes practice! Try it when you’re not stressed out by practicing conscious rest. Then, when you are faced with daily stress, you have a new tool to use.

I’d love to hear from you and how—by following these three steps— you were able to override your stress reaction. Share your experience below in the comments below.


Give it a rest! Slow down your crazy, busy day by trying this “activity”

Busy lives and crazy days don’t give us much time for rest. On the one hand, leading a crazy, busy life can be a good thing! Some may say it means that you are leading a full life. However, over a long period of time, your busy life and crazy days can lead to chronic tension, pain, stress, and fatigue.

The Alexander Technique offers a lovely solution to being stressed out and tired. It is also a great way to start to relieve chronic pain. It’s called Conscious Rest and will only take a few minutes out of your crazy, busy day.

Try it right now:

  • Grab a yoga mat and lay down on your back with a book or two under your head
  • Place your feet on the mat so your knees are bent

That’s it! Well….not quite…

Once you get into this position your body is resting, but I bet you anything your mind is still very active. And if you dig a bit deeper, your body is still probably holding on to a lot of layers of tension that you don’t even realize. (For example, you may be clenching your jaw really tight).

Take 5 minutes to quiet the mind while you rest your body.

Use this time to say NO. This means…

…say NO to all the mental chatter, worries, and to-do lists crowding your mind. Ask for quiet.

…say NO to holding your breath. Allow your breath to flow naturally without interference.

…say NO to clenching your jaw. Release your jaw and tongue—just let them go.

…say NO to narrowing and tightening your back. Allow your back to lengthen.

This practice of resting your body while quieting your mind works wonders. The hardest part is taking time out of our crazy, busy day to do it!

Try it now for five minutes and leave a comment below on any changes you noticed.

I can’t wait to hear from you! 


Cause you're the only one that has control of what you need/and there's no sense in the way you worry all your life/so how you gonna grow if you don't know you're draggin' you down?/you'll waste the rest of your days if you worry all your life

from the song "Worry All Your Life" by Sera Cahoone, 2012