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Relaxation and Breathing Exercises

Relaxation exercises are easy to learn and implement and can be remarkably effective in addressing stress, test anxiety, all kinds of phobias and other similar concerns.

Relaxation Audio Clips (links below)

The following audio exercises are used with the permission of Hobart and William Smith Colleges Counseling Center. You can listen to either exercise directly from this web site, or you can download the exercises onto your computer. The recordings of these exercises are not copyrighted and can be used or copied or recorded to a CD or MP3 player freely.

  • Progressive Relaxation Exercise (mp3)

    (recorded by Steve Sprinkle). This exercise will direct you to systematically relax your major muscle groups by briefly flexing your muscles and then slowly releasing the tension. It begins by having you flex your facial muscles and continues with your neck and shoulders, down to your arms, abdomen and legs. The exercise ends by directing you to breathe deeply and slowly as you review parts of your body. The recording is about nine minutes long.

  • Combination Relaxation Exercise (mp3)

    (recorded by Bonnie Lambourn) blends several relaxation techniques, which used together can have a synergistic effect in creating a deep relaxation experience. In this exercise, you will progressively release tension from your major muscle groups and then will be guided in using deep breathing, affirming statements and the visualization of a "safe place" to achieve a relaxed state. The recording is about 15 minutes long.

Relaxation Handouts

  • Breath Counting (pdf):  

    Taking a few moments each day to relax can help improve your focus, concentration, and ability to do well. Follow the directions in this excercize to learn an easy way to relax yourself by focusing on your breathing. 

Helpful Tips for using the information on this page:

Incorporating breathing exercises into your daily life

  1. Tune in to your breathing at different times during the day, feeling the belly go through one or two rising and fallings.
  2. Become aware of your thoughts and feelings at these moments, just observing them without judging them or yourself, then let them float away and go back to focusing on your breathing
  3. Be aware of any changes in the way you are seeing things and feelings things about yourself while you do this.

How to use the audio clips:

  1. Try to practice whichever exercise you prefer at least once or twice a day. Expect your ability to relax to improve as you continue practicing and expect to practice two or three weeks before you become genuinely proficient. Once you learn how to do one of the exercises, you may no longer require the recorded instructions and you can tailor the exercise to your own liking.
  2. Avoid practicing within an hour before or after a meal (either hunger or feeling full may distract you). Also avoid practicing immediately after engaging in vigorous exercise.
  3. Sit quietly and in a comfortable position, with your legs uncrossed and your arms resting at your sides. This is especially important when you are first learning the exercise.
  4. Adopt a calm and accepting attitude towards your practice. Don't worry about how well you're doing or about possible interruptions. Instead, know that with repetition your ability to relax will grow.
  5. When you are ready, close your eyes, begin listening to the recording and follow the directions. As you complete the exercise, you can expect your mind to wander a bit-when this happens you can simply re-direct your focus back to the recording.
  6. Once you've finished, stretch, look around and remain still another minute or two.
  7. As you become more skilled, try applying the exercises to specific situations that might otherwise be anxiety provoking, such as tests, oral presentations, difficult social situations, job interviews, insomnia and so forth. If you need help learning or applying the exercises, consider meeting with a therapist.