Rickie Bishop MCSP SRP
Rickie qualified in 1970 from Bath School of Physiotherapy. After hospital work, she moved to work in a special school in Bexhill-on-Sea where her interest in breathing exercises and rehabilitation for asthma started in 1979 with children. [more]


Stress is a fact of modern life. We all try to fit a lot into every day and many people are doing far more within one day than their parents or grandparents would have dreamed of. On top of this are the day-to-day worries that are part of all our lives. Major changes to our lives, such as marriage, divorce, bereavement, new job or retirement, are frequently the biggest cause for upset in our lives, and will therefore increase stress levels to a high degree. When we are stressed, our bodies react with the ‘fight or flight’ reflex, producing extra adrenalin and giving us more energy and strength to cope with the perceived aggressor. Unfortunately, prolonged stress due to our way of life can set the adrenalin levels permanently high, and this leads to tension throughout the body. When this persists for weeks, months or even years, our health begins to suffer and each person will notice different problems according to their own physical make-up. One will have high blood pressure, another tummy trouble, another breathing problems and another waterworks problems. Every system in the body could be affected, but fortunately, most people have only one or two vulnerable areas.


Tension in the body occurs in a typical pattern for most people:

  1. The shoulders rise and are held very square
  2. The arms tend to be held tightly, maybe across the body like a boxer
  3. The hands are clenched or cannot keep still
  4. The legs are crossed or tight together
  5. The knees are rigid
  6. The feet are pushing against the surface they are resting on
  7. The trunk muscles are taut producing back ache or tummy ache
  8. The neck muscles are taut causing stiffness
  9. The teeth may be clenched or grinding
  10. There may be a worried frown


Relaxation is a good way of releasing the tension from the body and, if practised regularly, can help to reduce the background level of tension producing a more relaxed frame of mind. To start your relaxation, choose a comfortable position in which your whole body is supported, including your head and feet. This may be lying on a bed or the floor on your back or side with one or two pillows to support the head and knees, or on an armchair with a high back and a small cushion to support your head comfortably. This method of relaxation is ‘physiological’, i.e. it works the way your body works. All muscles work in paired groups, so that when you bend your elbow you are using the flexor muscles on the front of your arm; at the same time the extensor muscles on the back of your arm have to relax to allow the movement to happen. We can use this fact to produce relaxation by purposely moving the tense parts of the body in the opposite direction to the tension; when the movement is stopped the whole area will become relaxed. Each part of the body is moved in turn so that the whole body relaxes and the tension is removed. Once you have achieved a relaxed body, allow your thoughts to dwell on some pleasant thought pattern that causes no anxiety. This may be daydreaming about a pleasant experience from the past or imagining you are strolling in a beautiful garden on a lovely sunny day enjoying the sights and sounds and scents around you.


Press your shoulders down towards your hips as firmly as you can. STOP. Feel that your shoulders are further away from your ears than when you started.

Open your elbows out. STOP. Feel that your arms are resting loose and heavy at your sides.

Stretch your fingers and thumbs as long as you can. STOP. Feel that your hands are resting loosely on the ends of your arms


Separate your thighs a little apart from each other. STOP. Feel that your thighs are resting comfortably supported on the surface underneath.

Wriggle your knees until you find a comfortable shape for them. STOP. Feel how comfortable your knees are.

Pull your toes up towards your face. STOP. Feel that your feet are resting loosely on the ends of your legs.


Press your body into the supporting surface. STOP. Feel that your body is supported from the hips all the way up to your shoulders.

Press your head against the support. STOP. Feel that your head is comfortably supported, you are not doing anything to keep it there.

Take two very long, slow, smooth breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.


Keeping your lips gently together, allow your chin to drop down away from the upper jaw. STOP. Feel that your jaw is loose with a small gap between the teeth.

If your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth, bring it down so that it lies in the centre of your mouth. STOP. Feel that your tongue is loose just behind your teeth.

Close your eyes gently. STOP. Enjoy the darkness.

Without moving anything else, smooth the skin of your forehead from the eyebrows up towards the top of your head. STOP. Feel that even the scalp on top of your head is loose and comfortable.

Now start thinking your beautiful, peaceful thoughts and keep relaxing for ten to twenty minutes to allow your body to recharge its batteries.

Practise daily and you will perfect the technique, then if a crisis arises you will have the means of coping with it already to hand. You can even use some of the movements as you go through the day to get rid of tension wherever you notice it.