Think about a stressful situation you’re facing at the moment–something small or something epic. Close your eyes and scan your body, noticing where you feel tension when you think about this tough situation. It might take a minute to find the spot. (Good places to check: jaw, shoulders, belly, chest, throat.) Rest your hand on the tense spot and take a comfortable inhale, imagining the breath flowing into and around the spot. Exhale naturally, all the way out. Repeat a few times, letting your breath take you right into the center of the tension; your hand will help remind you to direct your breath. If you’ve noticed tension in more than one spot, move your hand–and your breath–to another spot and repeat. Then relax, eyes closed, hands in your lap, and feel the new softness of those spots. You can do this exercise anytime, anywhere, even with your eyes open–and even if you’re not sure what the source of your tension is. Breathing into tightness and softening creates a gentle space for tensions to relax.
–Margaret Townsend is a certified breathwork and Hakomi practitioner in Portland, Oregon. She teaches a blend of shiatsu, reiki, qigong, yoga and other disciplines. You can find her at thelivingbreath.com. This article originally appeared in the January issue of Real Simple magazine.