This is the second of a 3-part article in which I describe various practices that can create the relaxation response within your body - which serves as an antidote to the harmful effects of chronic stress on the body. Through these tested techniques which encourage the state of relaxation, we can begin to engage the body's marvelous potential for self-healing.

In Part I, we reviewed the techniques of Diaphragmatic Breathing and the Body Scan.

In Part II, we will learn about relaxation through Centering Meditation, Mindfulness, and Visualization.

1. Centering Meditation

In centering meditation, we focus our attention on a word or phrase to enhance the sense of relaxation while breathing deeply, slowly and evenly. The words you choose can have deep personal meaning, be neutral or simply be pleasing sounds.

One approach with this kind of structured meditation is to say one word or phrase to yourself as you breathe in and another as you breathe out. Here are some examples for you to try right now:

As you breathe in, mentally say to yourself: At
As you breathe out, mentally say to yourself: Peace

With the inhale, saying: Let
With the exhale, saying: Go

Breathing in: Deep
Breathing out: Slow

Another way to use centering meditation is to repeat the word or phrase each time you breathe out. Here are some examples of words or phrases you might repeat to yourself in this way:


You can also practice centering meditation by counting breaths. To do this, simply count each time you breathe out, You can count up to ten and start over again. When you lose track of the count, start over again at 1.

If thoughts, feelings or distractions arise, just let them pass on by and gently bring your attention back to the repetitive word, phrase, or counting.

2. The Practice of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the discovery of what the essayist, Henry David Thoreau, referred to as the "bloom of the present moment." This practice can provide an experience of the relaxation response as you learn to be in the present with non-judgmental, moment to moment awareness. It allows you to become centered and fully engaged in your life as it unfolds.

Mindfulness can be practiced formally or informally. In the formal practice of mindfulness, you start with attention on the physical ensations that come with breathing. That is followed by a widening of focus as you begin to be aware of sounds, sensations, thoughts, experiences or feelings. As you become aware of what is within you and around you, you can learn to consider and embrace what is present without judgment, without trying to change it or move away from it.

Mindfulness is best practiced with awareness of the breath. As you breathe, you observe the thoughts or feelings that arise without reacting to them. Then, using the rhythm of your breath, simply name and acknowledge what you observe, and continue focusing on the breath. In this way, the breath becomes an ongoing anchor to the present moment, and the interruptive thought or feeling fades from awareness.

This process has been likened to sitting on the bank of a stream, focusing on the breath. As a leaf or a stick floats by, it enters conscious awareness. The leaf is observed, noted, and then it floats down the stream out of view. The observer returns to the focus on the breath.

Some examples are:

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.

Breathing in, I am sad (or happy, worried, afraid, etc.)
Breathing out, I am still sad, etc.

With this approach, we stop thinking about what has triggered the emotion and simply name and breathe it.

A less formal approach to mindfulness involves bringing your full awareness to any task in which you are engaged, or to any moment that is occurring in your day. Whether you are eating, walking, driving, or getting dressed, you can proceed with the task or pleasure at hand, being fully absorbed in it while maintaining the awareness of your breathing. You can engage your senses fully and savor sensations that you notice.

Breathing in, I know that I am taking a shower.
Breathing out, I hear the rushing sounds of the water.

Breathing in, I notice the sensation of the warm water on my body.
Breathing out, I see the swirling patterns of steam.

With this informal approach - bringing mindful awareness to what is happening in the moment - we cease the stress-inducing habit of multi-tasking and allow ourselves to be fully engaged in what is at hand. Only then can we be fully alive -- present to our lives!

2. Visualization or Guided Imagery/Meditation

Visualization and Guided Meditation is a powerful, creative and engaging way to soothe yourself and move into the state of deep rest and relaxation. It is a powerful tool for changing your life. Through visualization you can intentionally use your imagination to change your behavior, help your mind and body to heal, and alter the way you feel.

In her book, Staying Well With Guided Imagery, Belleruth Naparstek says that Guided Imagery is "a kind of directed, deliberate daydreaming, . . . a safe and effective method of utilizing your sensory imagination." This helps you relax so that your mind and body may rest and recover from the ravages of chronic stress.

Imagery works because your body doesn't fully distinguish between evocative, sensory images and real events. Therefore, when one is in a state of deep relaxation, the images we choose to focus on can be potent and real to the body.

One way to start the practice of visualization is to use an audio CD, either one that is professionally produced or your own recording of a chosen meditation script. You can also practice on your own by bringing to mind an image that you find relaxing -- a soothing image of a favorite place or a happy experience. Breathe slowly and deeply as you use all of your imaginal senses to create and savor your chosen image.

Author's Bio: 

Sandi Anders, M.Div., R.Y.T. ( has been helping people relax and access their inner creativity for many years. A stress management specialist, yoga and meditation teacher, musician and life coach, she uses her soothing voice to teach audiences how to let go of stress and tension and learn to listen to the wisdom of the body. Sandi blends poetic language with her broad knowledge of meditation traditions to teach relaxation skills anyone can learn.

Sandi is based in Nashville, TN and leads workshops and retreats around the country. Her popular new CD The Alchemy of Peace and Love offers two hours of guided relaxation and meditation, using her unique voice, evocative words and original music to guide the listener into a deeply relaxed state.

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