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I'm a big believer in breathing exercises as relaxation. My favorite relaxation technique for anxiety is really simple.

1. Breathe in as you slowly count 1-2-3-4.

2. Exhale as you slowly count 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.

3. Repeat as long as you like.

With a little practice, you won't need to count any more. What this extremely simple exercise does is to slow down your heart rate. Your blood pressure goes down, a little, and you feel more at ease because your heart isn't sending the message "I'm beating, I'm beating, I'm beating," quite as frequently to your brain.

Something else that many people find relaxing is taking a dip in the pool. It isn't necessary to tire yourself by swimming rapidly. It's only necessary to get your head beneath the water (in a position from which you can easily rise to take a breath). When you are under water, your brain slows down the signals to your heart, your lungs, and your adrenal glands to conserve oxygen. Assuming you don't have a fear of the water, you relax and your internal organs get a little rest.

I've tried a yoga "relaxation" technique called pranayama, although I am not especially a fan. In the Ayurvedic tradition, prana is the life force and yama is "extending," so pranayama is extending life force. There are dozens of way to do pranayama, some of which are practically a martial art, but the simplest is this:

1. Hold your index finger gently against one nostril.

2. With your mouth closed, breathe slowly in and out through that nostril.

3. When you feel like it, repeat the process with the opposite nostril.

4. Continue until you have something else to do.

There are far more energetic approaches to this ancient Indian exercise. This "pranayama lite," however, is enough to reduce tension, slow down the heart rate, and slow down breathing for most people. It's not a good idea to attempt any kind of pranayama if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or if you have had a stroke or aneurysm.

Meditation is a practice that takes many different forms.

In Western Europe, in the Middle Ages, it was a common practice to "meditate" over the sick by singing the song "Placebo Domino in regione vivorum," which roughly means "I will please the Lord while I am in the land of the living." This is where we get the English word "placebo." The act of pleasing "the Lord," presumably by singing the song over and over and over again, brought healing.

Other forms of meditation arose in entirely different contexts, but the general idea is to say or do something repetitively so that a physical change or a spiritual change can result. Meditations can be words, or movements, or even work, such as spinning a spinning wheel. No special clothes or equipment or training by gurus is required.

There have been over 3,000 peer-reviewed, scientific studies of meditation and health. Researchers can explain how meditation reduces the severity of chronic pain, lowers high blood pressure, opens narrow arteries, and helps regulate the immune system, sometimes helping it fight infections, sometimes helping it reduce inflammation.

Focused attention meditations (meditating on just one thing or with just one mantra, or repeated phrase) increase, as one might expect, attention and focus. Open monitoring meditations (thinking quietly about a variety of things,one at a time) help meditators overcome old habits. Loving kindness meditations (thinking about love for self and then love for others, including people who are "unloveable")have been found to increase creativity and improve focus.

Hypnotism can be an extraordinarily useful tool for overcoming bad habits or crippling memories, but it is best when done by professionally trained hypnotists. You'll get better results faster when you are the person getting hypnotized, not the hypnotist.

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