Welcome to Day 6 of HuffPost Healthy Living's 14-Day Stress-Less Challenge! In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, our goal is to use the next two weeks to focus on becoming less stressed and more calm. Today's expert is Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D., assistant professor in clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, who will be focusing on how breathing can reduce stress. Read through today's challenge, then tell us -- either in the comments, on Facebook or @HealthyLiving -- how it's going. Just joining us? Catch up on what you've missed here and sign up to receive newsletters for the rest of the challenge here.
Yesterday, you learned how to make Coherent Breathing a part of your stress-relief repertoire. And while you can certainly breathe at five breaths per minute quietly without anyone noticing, you can also boost the benefits of this practice with a few additional steps.
"Coherent Breathing can be combined with movement and relaxation practices for additional benefits," says Patricia L. Gerbarg, M.D., assistant professor in clinical Psychiatry at New York Medical College. "The ideal ancient sequence for increasing energy flow is: movement, breathing and meditation."
Because our bodies hold a lot of tension, it's important to empty not just the mind of stress, but the body, too. "Many people relieve this physical tension through activity -- walking, running, working out or sports," says Gerbarg.
Today, try combining Coherent Breathing with your preferred form of movement, like walking. Download a breath pacing app, then figure out how many steps you need to take between one chime and the next. You can then use your own steps to pace your breathing. As you walk faster, you may need to shift from five breaths per minute to six, says Gerbarg. With other types of movement, just breathe in slowly on the upward movements and out on the downward movements.
Or you can try this ancient practice to de-stress anywhere, at any time. "When you finish each practice, take a moment to notice changes in how your body feels," says Gerbarg. "This mindfulness enhances the effects of the techniques."
- Stand erect with feet about shoulder width apart.
- Close your eyes and gently bounce up and down using your knees. As you bounce keep your body loose. Let your arms and head bounce gently.
- Continue bouncing as you imagine a golden waterfall of light cascading from the top of your head, down inside your body and out through the soles of your feet. Imagine the water flowing down over the rocks with each bounce.
- Continue for 3 to 5 minutes. When you stop, take a moment to notice changes in how your body feels.
Body Scan: Lie down or sit in a comfortable chair, and close your eyes. Put all your attention on the soles of your feet, becoming aware of the soles of your feet. Next, put all your attention on the tops of your feet and become aware. Then put your attention on the place behind your knees where your legs bend. Put all your attention inside your belly. Put all your attention on your finger tips, then on the place inside where your elbow bends. Put your attention on your shoulders, then inside your chest. Put your attention on your throat, inside your mouth, between your eyes and finally the top of your head. Take a deep relaxing breath.
Stress-Less Fact Of The Day: Regardless of how happy you actually feel, putting on a happy face can curb the effects of stress. Grinning during stressful scenarios lowered heart rate and self-reported stress levels in a 2012 study. Smile!