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Resting the Body to Care for the Soul

Updated: Mar 31

Many directees have shared how they find themselves more distracted in prayer these days or too tired to pray at the end of the day or to consider even praying more during Advent or the upcoming Lent, fasting, or dedicating more time they feel they just do not have. They sense hitting a wall of resistance or at least worry that they cannot fulfill their basic life's commitments, no less desired spiritual practices.

When I hear those concerns, I find myself shifting into putting on my 'clinical hat' within a spiritual direction session. Within that shift of focus and change of role, when assessing their level of stress, we look to consider a few tools to mitigate the damaging effect of stress on the brain/body system to free up an internal sense of space.

Natural Ways for Increasing Body and Mind Health

8 Evidence-based tools for Stress Relief

Mind-Body techniques are a group of therapeutic exercises with approaches that may differ widely in their philosophical bases or in their methodologies and techniques. Nevertheless, their primary objective is the achievement of non-directed relaxation, to elicit the relaxation response to enhance the body’s remembered wellness, thus reducing the physiological and psychological effects of stress.

These 8 simple stress management techniques are a way of interrupting the 'Fight or Flight' response thus triggering the body's normal relaxation response to increase resiliency and remembered wellness.

  1. Relaxed Breathing

Abdominal Exercise is for anytime, or if you sense stress building up during the day.

  • Take 1- 3 minutes

  • Sit quietly and rest hands on your stomach.

  • Breathe in through your nose.

  • Feel your belly lift as you breathe in.

  • Exhale through your mouth ( 2x longer in length of time)*

This is diaphragmatic breathing. It is part of any general relaxation and stress management method. Abdominal (or diaphragmatic) breathing is when we breathe in the diaphragm tightens, flattens and moves down, sucking air into the lungs. As the diaphragm moves down, it pushes the abdominal contents down, which forces the abdominal wall out.


2. Mini-Centering

Anytime or if you sense stress building up during the day

  • Assume a relaxed position. Go into the silence

  • Take 1- 3 minutes

  • Start off slowly, take in several deep breaths through nose, and then out through your mouth

  • Then resume normal abdominal relaxed breathing

  • Mentally say your favorite word as you breathe out, or

  • Rest with your hand on your belly to use your breath as a focusing method

3. Mini-Visualization

Anytime or if you sense stress building up during the day

  • Assume a relaxed position. Go into the silence

  • Start off slowly take in several deep breaths through nose, and then out through your mouth, then resume normal abdominal relaxed breathing

  • Select a real or imaginary place

  • Imagine you are in your special place

Application of the Interior Senses

  • Use all your senses to see, touch, smell, taste : such as the breeze, the sounds, etc.

  • Stay in this place while you breathe naturally yet slowly.

4. Building Your Quieting Reflex

When you become aware of a stress reaction building up from a particular stressor, a long-standing worry, a new problem, or from a simple annoyance.

  • Assume a relaxed position.

  • Go into the silence.

  • Inwardly gaze, to look at it the stressor.

  • While looking at it, smile inwardly.

  • Inhale an easy slow natural breath.

  • While exhaling slowly, sense letting go of any tension in jaw, tongue, facial muscles, shoulders while you are imagining a warm wave flowing from head to toes.

Eventually, this will become a reflex – an automatic habit. Try it each and every time you feel stressed (even if it’s a dozen times a day if you have to).

5. The Psychobiological Feedback Loop

Thought-Feel-Body Test

Thoughts and feelings have corresponding reactions in our body.

  • Did you know that when you think of a negative thought, for example, it produces negative sensations? Try it.

  • Can you feel your body automatically tighten up?

  • Next, change your thoughts to positive, do you feel your body automatically following?

  • When you find yourself thinking negatively, check where you sense tension in your body. Or

  • When you become aware of tension in your body, check your thoughts. Change your thoughts to positive.

6. Body-Feel Test

Changing your posture will change your attitude.

  • Observe and sense how you feel about these two postures.

  • Slump in your chair – how do you feel?

  • Stand up straight with shoulder back – how do you feel?

  • If you find yourself ‘down’, sit up or stand up straight.

  • And take a few deep breaths to reset yourself.

7. Body Awareness – Natural Biofeedback

Training in body awareness, stretching, and aerobic exercise are tools that elicit the relaxation response in gaining a body understanding of yourself. You already have an innate biofeedback system called your autonomic nervous system.

Your body gives you physical cues when you are hungry or tired or stressed. You may choose to disregard or listen. Too many times, we ignore these cues. We try to ignore pain, and just cope with it. In the short run, this is not a positive coping strategy, and in the long run, it is detrimental since we ‘shut it down’ - chronically detaching from our body’s cues.

How to become more in tune with your own biofeedback monitor is a body self-inquiry paying close attention to those tension spots.

Sit in a comfortable seated position or lie on the floor. Ask yourself these questions.

  • What tension do I feel in my head?

  • Tightness in my forehead?

  • Am I clenching my jaw?

  • Tightness in the back of my neck, throat, shoulders?

  • Am I hot or cold?

  • Am I holding my breath?

  • Have I been clenching my fists?

  • Do I have knots in my stomach?

Where you have tension, visualize the area and take several Relaxed Abdominal Breaths.

Wait for the tension to subside.

Muscle tension is natural to all movement and posture. Unnecessary tension wastes energy, leading to fatigue and other symptoms of dis-ease. What we are talking about is accumulated excessive muscle tension that may be related to emotional concerns, poor posture habits, or repetitive work habits.

Notice yourself throughout the day if you are building up tension since it comes in bit by bit.

Chronic tension is less noticeable than an acute episode. Ask yourself a few questions to prevent buildup.


8. The 3 Second Reset

  • Stand up or Sit up Straight - it changes the chemicals in your brain to positive

  • Take one deep breath - slow in and slow out equally


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