Relax and Relieve Stress this Mother’s Day

Robert Walker, Program Director at ‘Ekahi Ornish Lifestyle Medicine
Photo: Woman on a mountain

Adapted from Susi Amendola’s original article, “Vital Techniques for Reducing Stress”

For centuries, yoga practitioners have known the profound health benefits of the practice. Now science has caught up to show that stress leads to an inflammation process that is the root cause of heart disease and other chronic illness. In his book The Chronic Stress Crisis: How Stress is Destroying Your Health and What You Can Do To Stop It, Dr. William G. Timmins explains that high levels of the main stress hormone cortisol lead to alterations in the immune system which in turn provokes the inflammation process.

There is no doubt that motherhood comes with a lot of joy as well as stress. This Mother’s Day, treat yourself and your mothers to these powerful stress management techniques that are based on the age-old system of Yoga. These techniques help to lower cortisol and decrease the physical inflammation process. They help us to intervene in the disease process and when practiced all together they create a powerful healing path.

1. Postures

These are slow gentle healing movements that, with practice, help us listen to the information our body is offering us about our health. So many participants in our program have said to me, “I knew something wasn’t right. I had symptoms, but I just didn’t listen to them.” Practicing these healing movements gives us an opportunity to hear what our bodies need from us to be healthy. They also can improve blood flow to and from the heart, lower blood pressure, and improve over-all circulation. We recommend taking a gentle yoga class or yin yoga for relieving stress and relaxing the body.

Try one of our favorite relaxing poses: Fish Pose

Benefits: Expands the chest and counteracts the effects of poor posture, brings blood flow to the thyroid and parathyroid glands, stretches the muscles of the back, neck, and shoulders, improves blood flow to the heart and lungs, opens a pathway between the heart and arms so blood and energy can flow more freely.

  • Sit on the floor with one or two pillows placed behind you lengthwise to support the spine.
  • Support yourself by either resting on your side and rolling onto the pillows or ease back over the pillows using your forearms for support.
  • Let the pillows support you from the base of the spine up through the neck to about mid-ear or higher.
  • Arms rest away from the body with palms up or down.
  • The head rests back and pillows can be adjusted for best support and comfort.
  • Arms rest away from the body with palms up or down.
  • Breathe as if your heart were breathing. Imagine energy and blood moving freely between the heart and arms.
  • When finished gently release by putting hands under back of head and bring head to neutral position or chin to chest. Bend the knees and roll on to one side.

2. Breathing

Breath is the link between the body and the mind. How we think affects how we breathe and how we breathe affects how we think and feel. If you make changes to one, you can affect the other. When we slow the breath down, the mind becomes calmer and quieter. When the mind is quiet, the breath slows down. Our breathing patterns are within our conscious control. When we begin to work with our habits of breath, we can elicit powerful changes in our thinking and overall well-being. One of the quickest and easiest ways to affect stress is to relax the rhythm of the breath. This in turn calms the nervous system, lowers the heart rate, and quiets the mind.

Try this Abdominal Breathing technique:

BENEFITS: Encourages full oxygen exchange, lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, calms and quiets the mind and reduces anxiety.

The diaphragm is a large muscle located between the chest and the abdomen. When you breathe in, this large muscle is forced downward, causing a partial vacuum that forces air into the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing increases the suction pressure in the chest, thereby improving venous return of blood to the heart.

  • To practice abdominal breathing, sit comfortably with the spine lifted. If you prefer, it can be done in the Relaxation Pose on the back.
  • Keep the breath steady and gentle without strain. If at any time you feel dizzy or light-headed, please discontinue the practice and allow the breath to return to normal. If at all possible, always breathe through the nose, which filters and warms the air.
  • Begin by exhaling completely through the nose. The right hand will move in. At the end of the exhalation, pull in the abdomen.
  • Begin the inhalation by releasing the abdomen and allowing the lower lungs to fill. The right hand will move outward. Then pull in the abdomen as you exhale.
  • Inhale, slowly expand the abdomen. Exhale, slowly contract the abdomen.
  • Continue a few times until you feel comfortable with it.

This is abdominal breathing. While it may feel unnatural at first, it will gradually become easier, if you practice it on a regular basis.

3. Deep Relaxation

Relaxation is a learned and conscious “letting go.” It’s different from sleep in that the body and mind are put in a deep state of rest while the mind remains awake, alert, and fully relaxed. It can provide rest that is even deeper than sleep. We have all experienced those nights when sleep doesn’t feel that restful; when we wake up feeling tired or even exhausted. Most of us don’t even realize we’re stressed until we are truly relaxed. This practice helps us recognize what it feels like to be deeply relaxed and gives us the rest we need to function more effectively.

Try the suggested Progressive Relaxation technique below:

BENEFITS: Helps the body recover from exertion, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, lowers elevated cholesterol, improves sleep, calms the mind, reduces anxiety, and promotes healing and well-being.

Lie on the back or sit comfortably in a chair, eyes closed. Position the body so you feel comfortable. Use pillows under the knees and head for more comfort. Allow the body to be still.

Note: During relaxation, blood pressure lowers and the body may become cold. Using a blanket can help make the practice more enjoyable.

Using the mind, travel through the body, mentally allowing each part of the body to relax. The feet, legs, hips relax. Hands, arms, shoulders relax. Buttocks, abdomen, chest, heart, throat relax. Spine and all the muscles in the back and neck relax. Allow all the muscles of the face and head to relax. Send any remaining tension out through the top of the head.

  • Observe the breath (pause) Observe the mind (pause).
  • Begin to move deeper as you search for that place of peace and stillness deep within.
  • Rest in that deep stillness and allow a period of quiet time.

To come out of the practice: Begin to observe the mind. Observe the breath. As you deepen the breathing, let the breath fill the spaces of body. Breathe as if the whole body is breathing. Slowly roll to one side to come up.

These techniques help set the foundation for reducing the body’s stress response and inflammation and are a perfect gift for all mothers. With daily practice, the body and mind begin to look forward to the supportive and health-giving benefits they provide.

‘Ekahi Health, a member of the ‘ike family of companies (, is an innovative healthcare delivery organization that provides comprehensive community-based care focusing on primary care and prevention and wellness. It was the first organization to offer the Ornish program to the people of Hawaii.

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