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Courtesy of The Cleveland Clinic Information Center

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Deep breathing

Imagine a spot just below your navel. Imagine breathing in through that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow exhalation, you should feel more relaxed. Breathing deeply and slowly floods the body with oxygen and other chemicals that work on the central nervous system and improve your comfort.

Visualized breathing

Find a comfortable place where you can close your eyes, and combine slowed breathing with your imagination. Picture relaxation entering your body and tension leaving your body. Breathe deeply but in a natural rhythm. Visualize the air coming into your nostrils, going into your lungs and expanding your chest and abdomen. Then, visualize your breath going out the same way. Continue breathing, but each time you inhale imagine that you are breathing in more relaxation. Each time you exhale, imagine that you are getting rid of a little more tension.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that teaches you to consciously concentrate on relaxing every muscle in your body beginning at your toes and working all the way up to your head. Reducing muscular tension helps reduce pain.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process. First, you deliberately apply tension to certain muscle groups and then you stop the tension and turn your attention to noticing how the muscles relax as the tension flows away. Here’s a quick tutorial on how the procedure works:

Guided imagery

Mental imagery relaxation, or guided imagery, is a proven form of focused relaxation that helps create harmony between the mind and body. Guided imagery coaches you in creating calm, peaceful images in your mind — a "mental escape."

Guided imagery provides a powerful psychological strategy that enhances a person’s coping skills. Many people dealing with stress feel a loss of control, fear, panic, anxiety, helplessness and uncertainty. Research has shown that guided imagery can dramatically counteract these effects. It can help people overcome stress, anger, pain, depression, insomnia and other problems. Guided imagery also has been shown to dramatically decrease pain and the need for pain medication, enhance sleep, and strengthen the immune system and enhance the ability to heal.

With guided imagery, a person imagines a pleasant experience or a particularly soothing environment. By concentrating on creating as much detail as possible, the mind becomes absorbed in this task, which in turn, lessens the stressful or painful event.

Patients must understand that guided imagery is not an alternative to medical or surgical treatment, nor is it a cure. Rather, it is an inexpensive, yet powerful way in which patients can actively participate in their health care.


Biofeedback is a technique that involves learning how to relax and better cope with pain and stress by altering your behavior, thoughts, and feelings. More specifically, biofeedback uses electronic devices to measure physiologic processes such as breathing rate, heart rate, skin temperature, skin conductance (which varies with perspiration) and muscle tension (which is measured with a device called an electromyography). A biofeedback unit processes the electronic signals and "feeds back" the information to the user in the form of sounds or graphs on a computer screen.

Biofeedback allows you to learn how your body responds in stressful situations, how to gain control over certain physiologic functions that cause tension and physical pain, and how to create a state of total body relaxation. If a headache, such as a migraine, begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to stop the attack before it becomes full blown.

Biofeedback equipment is expensive and professionals who use it must receive considerable technical training. Biofeedback training usually requires several sessions with a skilled biofeedback therapist. Some companies, however, make some simple biofeedback devices for self treatment at home. These devices can be helpful for people who have difficulty with the more imaginal relaxation techniques.

© Copyright 1995-2005 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
Printed with Permission.

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