As you read these words, notice your breathing. Notice the way you are sitting in your chair. Are you comfortable? Notice how you are holding your jaw. What about the level of tension in your neck, shoulders, stomach, and back?
You would probably not describe your breathing as “deep, slow, and steady” or the body as “comfortable and stress-free.” On the contrary, you are probably breathing shallowly and holding various parts of your body tightly.
We’re stressed these days, and plagued by the ever-present feeling that we just don’t have enough time. You might feel that you need nothing short of a miracle to find your freedom.
But you don’t need a miracle. You don’t need to wait. A combination of simple physical, mental and spiritual exercises can provide you with greater health, vitality, and peace.
The following practice can be done standing, seated and even lying down.* (It is not recommended that you practice while driving a car.) Appropriate and helpful visual examples are not hard to find in books or on the Internet. Start with Step 1 and stop as soon as you are satisfied with the results.
The breath is your connection to life. By making it deep you instantly increase your oxygen intake and help calm your emotions. By making it conscious you help to focus the mind. You are almost sure to see some results after just two minutes of this exercise.
1) Take a deep and conscious breath. Repeat until stress and shortness of breath subsides.
To create deeper relaxation, add stretching while breathing deeply. It should be done with no forcing, pain, or out-of-control movements that could result in injury. Modify whenever necessary. Experiment with using a pillow or pillows to help you stay comfortable and safe.
This relaxes your neck and shoulder muscles and improves circulation and range of motion in and around your trapezius muscle.
2) Tilt the head to one side. Your ear will move toward your shoulder while the opposite side of the neck is lengthened. Hold the head in that position for 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
3) Roll your shoulders up, back and down for a minute or more. Then lift them up toward the ears and drop them down a few times.
Here you will stretch the entire back of the body, alleviate certain cases of sciatica, and help decongest the abdominal organs.
4) Bend forward at the hips as much as possible, bringing your arms onto your legs and keeping your head and neck in alignment with the rest of the spine. Hold the stretch for 5 deep breaths.
This strengthens the back muscles while stretching the front of the body and flushing toxins from the kidneys.
5) Bend backwards with the hips and chest pressing forward, keeping the head and neck from going too far back (into hyperextension). Hold for 5 deep breaths.
This exercise lengthens the little muscles (the intercostals muscles) that connect the ribs to one another. It improves mobility in the thoracic (middle) region of the spine.
6) Bend to one side (side-stretching) and hold for 5 deep breaths. Switch sides and hold for 5 deep breaths.
Now you’ll wring out your body out like a sponge, promoting the elimination of toxins from the intestines, the liver, gall bladder, spleen and pancreas. This also enhances digestion and elimination.
7) While sitting with your hips fixed, turn your head and torso and look over your right shoulder. Fully twisted to the right, hold for 5 breaths. Twist fully but without compromising the vertical position of the spine. As you twist, be gentle with your neck and keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Switch sides and hold for 5 deep breaths. You may wish to use your arms and hands to help bring you into an even deeper twist.
Steps 1 through 7 may be repeated one or two more times.
If there is more stress and tension that needs to be released, you will address your beliefs.
8) Remember that there is a Master of the Universe (Ribbono shel Olam) and you are not it. It is true that G-d is within you and all around you, but you are best focused on serving a more specific function and leaving the operation of the universe to G-d. Work on developing a gut-felt sense of faith and trust in G-d. Your intellectual belief must translate into a serenity that can be felt.
9) Read Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan and practice regularly according to his suggestions.
*Before beginning any exercise or stretching routine, consult your physician.
Andrew Kahn ERYT, LMT is the owner and director of the Peaceful Presence Yoga Studio in Cedarhurst, NY, a unique Orthodox-friendly yoga teacher training school and yoga studio. Andrew, in striving to live up to his name, aspires to follow in the footsteps of Aharon Ha’Kohen, loving peace and loving people and drawing them to the truths found in the Torah. Feel free to send him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.