The one-legged king pigeon yoga pose.

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Exercise and Muscle Relaxation

You've heard it before: One of the most effective stress reducers is regular exercise. Evidence shows that those who are in good physical shape don't have as many problems with stress [source: University of Iowa]. Have you ever noticed that as you exercise your mind turns to upbeat thoughts? That's because exercise releases endorphins, chemicals that promote good moods and positive thinking. Exercise also provides a good physical outlet for releasing that energy that stress builds up inside of you. In addition, exercise increases blood flow to your brain, allowing it more oxygen, which has numerous advantages, including promoting clear thinking. Various kinds of exercise work to reduce stress, so you can take your pick. Walking, running and playing sports all relieve stress. To get the stress-relief benefits, experts recommend setting aside a half hour a day for three days a week for exercise.

Massages can also significantly reduce stress by releasing tension in your muscles. Not only can a massage help with stress, but studies have shown that it can help boost your immune system, which may have been weakened during stress [source: MayoClinic]. Not all of us can fork over the money or the time for a professional massage. Luckily, there are a few methods of massage you can perform on yourself. You can give yourself an effective and stress-relieving massage on your hands, feet, face, arms, legs and shoulders. Gentle circular motions on your muscles for a few minutes at a time will help relieve their tension.

A physician named Edmund Jacobson invented a process in the early 20th century called progressive relaxation, which is proven to reduce stress. As with a self-massage, progressive muscle relaxation is something you can do all by yourself. Start with your head and work your way down to your feet, or do the opposite, as long as you generally go in one direction. If you start with your feet, focus on one foot at a time. Here are the steps:

  1. Gradually tense the muscles in your foot until you are contracting your muscles tightly.
  2. Keep the muscles contracted for about five or 10 seconds.
  3. Relax your foot.
  4. Pay attention to the release of pressure from the foot for a few seconds.
  5. Repeat these steps on the other foot and then move your way up your body, focusing on different muscle areas at a time [source: Helpguide.org].

In addition to these techniques, changing the way we breathe and taking breaks to practice meditation can go a long way in helping us relax. On the next page, we'll take a look at deep breathing and how to find your "happy place."