Posture and Relaxation
Are your shoulders hunched up close to your ears? Is your chin tilted up and your neck bent back? Or are you slumped forward, your spine looking like the letter “C”? Posture and physical tension go hand in hand. When you are tense, your body responds by tightening or contracting in some areas (the neck, shoulders, and lower back). At the same time, if you aren't standing properly or if you sit too much, your body gets uncomfortable and responds by feeling tense.
Stretching relaxes your physical body by relieving tightness in a muscle, but it also relieves psychological tension because when your physical body relaxes, so does your mind. Also, because we stretch slowly, we slow down our breath, which calms our nervous system.
The best results for relaxation, though, come when we hold our bodies properly both when we stretch, and throughout our days. To do this, stay conscious of these three points:
Drop your shoulders away from your ears.
Your chin should be level with the floor, not dropped down toward your chest or tilted up, both of which crunch your neck.
Keep your abdominal muscles gently contracted, that is, held in, as much as you can. Don't clench them, but don't let them sag out either. Letting them sag hurts your back and makes your posture unattractive.
Focusing on the breath during mind-body exercise keeps your mind from wandering and filling your head with chatter (“Do I look fat? Am I doing this right? What should I have for dinner?”). Connecting your movement to your breath is good for your body and your fitness. Many people don't pay attention to the way they breathe, and they breathe improperly (shallow breaths or fast breaths), which minimizes their body's ability to be strong and cardio-efficient. Breathing properly enhances your body's power and function.
Different exercise styles require — or at least suggest — different types of breathing. Traditional yogis, for example, breathe only through the nose, and many yogi practice a style of breathing called ujjayi, which focuses the breath on the back of the throat. And a Pilates teacher will have you focus on expanding your chest out to the sides while you perform his moves.
But in general, to breathe properly and get you started before you learn more specific breathing styles, follow these instructions: Inhale through your nose, feeling the breath come in to your head and go down your throat and into your chest and belly. Your inhale should be so deep that your belly rises and you feel your body fill up with oxygen. Don't hold your breath, but let it flow through you.
Be aware of the duration of your inhale and exhale. Your inhale can take anywhere from three to six seconds, and the exhale can take from three to nine seconds. You can, if you want, pause just very briefly at the end of each inhale and exhale.
Now, exhale by opening your mouth just a bit and letting the air drift slowly past your lips as you feel your body let go of the air and collapse gently without the oxygen filling it up.
Breathing deeply is perhaps the most relaxing thing you can do when you work out, or if you feel tense or nervous. It's a great thing to do when you're in a boring meeting. You can practice while you're watching TV or when you're in line somewhere. It's immediately beneficial and effective to your heart and nervous system.