Practice peaceful postures. In an Indian study, 40 physical education teachers, who were already in excellent shape, enrolled in a 3-month yoga class. Afterward, they breathed more deeply, had lower blood pressures, and were less likely to experience jumps in heart rate when exposed to emotional stressors. “Yoga can be a powerful tool for coping with stress,” says Mary Pullig Schatz, M.D., author of Back Care Basics.
Stretch into relaxation. Yoga postures involve slow, gentle stretching. But even without the discipline of a yoga class, stretching is a quick, easy way to relieve stress. Louanne Cole-Weston, Ph.D., a sex and marital therapist in Sacramento, California, recommends this quick stretch: While standing and breathing deeply, rise to your tiptoes. Reach as high as you can over your head. Slowly move your arms in big circles, lowering your heels to the floor and rising again with each arm circle. Repeat five times.
Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Deep breathing is fundamental to meditation, yoga, sleep, sex, aerobic exercisejust about everything that’s deeply relaxing, says Robert K. Cooper, Ph.D., author of Health and Fitness Excellence. But if you don’t have the time to meditate or take a nap, a few deep breaths at the first sign of trouble can help nip your stress in the bud.
When you breathe deeply from your diaphragm, your blood becomes well-oxygenated without straining your heart. Also, your mind and body relax.
Mellow out with a mantra. Dozens of studies have shown that meditation-sitting quietly for 20 minutes once or twice a day and repeating a word or phrase, your mantra-helps relieve stress.
Focus on mindfulness. “Mindfulness involves keeping your attention focused on the present moment without judging it as good or bad, happy or sad,” says David S. Sobel, M.D., director of patient education and health promotion for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, a health maintenance organization. “You simply observe what’s going on around you and strive to experience it deeply and accept it.”
Mindfulness offers many of the same benefits as formal meditation. Here’s a quick mindfulness exercise: Pick up a pencil. Notice its shape, color, weight, and feel. Experience how it feels to hold the pencil and write with it.