Relaxation and Recovery

Rest, Recover, Recharge.

Life these days seems to be ‘go, go, go’ more than ever. We’re always on the run, trying to get everything done. We’re left feeling exhausted because of being over-scheduled, hyper-stressed and under-nurtured. We rarely give ourselves the time we need to rest and recover.

Rest and recovery are not entirely the same, especially in the realm of health and fitness. Rest is easier to come by. It’s simply a lack of exertion on the body. Maybe you take a day to yourself and binge on a show on Netflix or you take a nap. Getting some time away from work and away from chores is good for your body. But rest is only a part of what you need to truly recover from the stresses of the week.


Think about it in terms of exercise and training. You can give it your all and rest for a few hours, but does that mean you’re ready to jump back to it? No. You didn’t give your body ample opportunity to recover and get ready to be pushed again. Recovery, in the true sense of the word, means creating an actual, deliberate plan to offset physical and mental demands of your week (or training, if exercising).

Dallas Hartwig, PT, MS, wrote in his blog, 9 Things to do When You’re All Banged Up:

I see more sub-acute and chronic injuries resulting from inadequate recovery from exercise (especially with high-intensity programs), than resulting from an acute or traumatic incident. The primary fault lies with inadequate or improper recovery from exercise, not the type or intensity of exercise. (To put it another way, it’s not that you’re hurting yourself doing pull-ups – more often than not, it’s because you’re not properly recovering from those pull-ups.) I believe that a high-intensity exercise program is both effective and sustainable life-long only when combined with good nutrition and recovery practices.



In today’s world, many of us are stressed out by the very concept of rest. We may desire it, but we’re afraid to let the worries of our lives go, as if everything will fall apart if we take a break. Here in the West, rest seems to have negative connotations. If we’re resting, then we’re being lazy…failing to live up to expectations. We’ve always got to be out there working, moving, pushing on. If you’re not ‘too busy’, you’re falling behind. This is the way we think.

And it’s killing us.

Sleep is wonderful, but just getting adequate sleep isn’t enough to stay healthy. Dr. Matthew Edlund, a sleep specialist, found that even when he helped cure a patient’s inability to sleep properly, their health still remained poor because they weren’t properly recovering from the stress and exertion of their daily lives.

“Many of us are so busy we see rest as a weakness – a waste of precious time,” said Dr. Edlund, “but rest is, in fact, a biological need. All the science shows we need rest to live, just like we need food.”

The reality is, recovery is JUST as important and necessary as sleep for the body to rebuild and rejuvenate. The brain needs sleep to clean itself of toxins and become renewed. The body does the same. We’re not talking about plopping yourself in front of the TV, but about active rest that can make you more alert and effective, reduce stress levels and give you a better chance for a healthier and longer life.

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According to Dr. Edlund, there are four kinds of active rest you can do. Social, physical, spiritual and mental. It’s important to practice each of these types of rest in your daily life to benefit your overall health and keep your body and mind fresh.

In order to recover from mental and physical stress, you need to engage in active rest.  A social rest can be time spent with friends, perhaps having a discussion over coffee or a meal. You’re relaxed and in a comfortable environment. Back in the 1970’s, a U.S. study found that socializing is important for our overall health. In fact, it was found that socializing reduces your risk of serious illnesses including heart disease.

More recent studies appear to back this up as well. Having social support while battling cancer has been shown to provide a boost in fighting it off. It can also help with recovering from depression and from infectious diseases.

This is all because socializing reduces stress hormones in your body. While you’re resting in a social context, your mind is still engaged, which is important too.

Mental rest is about realizing that the brain doesn’t like to focus on too many things at once. In today’s world, we are almost required to multitask at a constant rate. The thing is, we don’t realize that multitasking is harming our health. Multitasking — even for a short period of time — has been proven to affect our nervous systems, increase blood pressure and change internal temperature.

The idea behind mental resting is teaching yourself controlled concentration. Focus on one single task to the point where all the other issues you’re dealing with no longer affect you. Learning how to meditate is a great way to get mental rest. Lie in bed, close your eyes and listen to a soundbite of rain or waves crashing the beach. Imagine yourself there. If meditation isn’t your bag, activities like knitting or coloring can encourage you to focus on a single thing, providing you with a mental rest.


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Physical rest involves relaxing your body. It’s true what they say about taking a few deep breaths when you’re stressed out or angry. By breathing, you relax the mind and body as it opens up collapsed air spaces and allows more oxygen into your system. Another type of physical rest is perhaps everyone’s favorite: a quick nap. Close your eyes for 15-30 minutes. 


A study from Greece revealed that people who took a 30-minute nap at least three times each week cut their risk of having a heart attack by 37 percent! NASA also found napping is helpful for improving work performance by 38 percent. There’s no denying the impact a quick nap can have on your overall health and well-being.

Going for a walk is a great way to take a break from constant sitting, get some fresh air and stretch your legs, without over-exerting yourself or risking injury.

Spiritual rest is closely connected to mental and even social rest. Whether or not you believe in the ‘spirit’ or in a deity, science has proven that people who pray and are able to meditate and attend religious services live longer than those who don’t. Meditation and prayer help to not only relax a person but actually expand their frontal lobes, the area of the brain in charge of concentration, focus, attention and analysis. It can also lower blood pressure and boost the immune system.

Religious or spiritual gatherings not only involve prayer but also allow for more opportunities to socialize and find the support that is often missing from our lives. T.M. Luhrmann, professor of anthropology at Stanford University and contributing opinion reporter for the N.Y. Times, conducted research as an anthropologist while visiting an evangelical church.

She reported that those who were in the church really did seem to look out for one another. When someone was sick, church members showed up with dinner. They had someone to sit down with when they were depressed. When there was a need within the community, as in the story of a young woman who needed $1,500 for a dental procedure, the church group rallied together to pay for it. Having that kind of support system in place does wonders for a person’s health.

Life can be overwhelming. In order to stay ahead, we often sacrifice our health to keep the ball rolling. We multitask, work long hours, bring our stress home with us and don’t give ourselves enough time to rest and recover. This is why we get sick. Our immune systems become suppressed, we get depressed and before we know it, we’re fighting off one illness after another.

It’s time to tell ourselves it’s okay to rest. It’s necessary! Even during a busy day, take the time to actively rest. Make time for your friends. If you’re able, take that 15-minute nap. Meditate. Join a church group or book club. Get out of the regular grind of constant work. You might find yourself healthier, more energized and even fulfilled. You never know, you might even find that you’re more productive at work too.



Massage Therapy: How a Massage Can Boost Your Overall Health

Massages aren’t just for relaxation anymore. Typically when you consider going to a massage therapist or a spa for a massage it’s to relax or relieve some stress. Maybe your neck has been bothering you or a specific set of muscles feels tight from overuse. New research suggests massage may have a larger impact on your overall health than simply helping you relax tense muscles, though. Massage as a means to heal, reduce pain and even cure illness has been around since ancient times. It is believed that massage first emerged in India as early as 3,000 BCE and was considered to be of divine origin.


From there, the techniques taught by Ayurveda (the traditional, holistic medical system of India) spread to both Egypt and China where they have been perfected and passed down over the centuries. There are even tomb paintings in Egypt depicting people getting massages. Despite its incredible popularity in various cultures, views on massage therapy began to shift away from a system of healing to simply an indulgence only the wealthy could afford, falling out of favor until its recent resurgence. With the developments of modern medicine, science has been able to catch up and prove what the ancients knew all along.

Benefits of Massage Therapy

Rest and relaxation is a major benefit of getting a massage. In a typical session, you’re ushered into a private, candle-lit room with soft music playing. You discuss any issues you’ve been having with the therapist before laying down on a table and letting them go to work. It’s an incredibly relaxing experience as their hands work like magic, loosening the muscles. This relaxation response has a lot of amazing added benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving respiratory rate, giving a boost to the immune system and decreasing built-up tension in the muscles.

Massage therapy also has the ability to improve circulation, enhancing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells and helping with the removal of waste products. These improvements may have value in the treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. No matter what kind of tension or chronic pain you may have, massage therapy could prove beneficial.

Massage Therapy and Low Back Pain


As new studies come to light about massage therapy, it appears sufferers of low back pain may have a new form of treatment. If you’ve ever had lower back pain, you know how horribly and totally it impacts your life. Every basic function, from how you walk, how you sit and even how you sleep is affected.

In fact, lower back pain is one of the top reasons why people visit a doctor’s office. Once you have it, it’s incredibly difficult to treat, often leading to endless months of injections, medications and therapy to try and relieve the nagging pain. Thankfully, recent research has suggested massage therapy may be the best treatment option when it comes to pain relief and recovery. A study of 400 randomly selected adults with differing levels of back pain, from moderate to severe, who had suffered for three months or longer were assigned one of several options for treatment. These included weekly massages that targeted a specific muscle group, weekly massages purely for relaxation and usual care (medication, injections).

As researchers tracked the patients, it was found after ten weeks that those who got weekly massages had greater-than-average pain relief and mobility than those who received typical care. This is huge news for those of us who have chronic back pain. Swedish massage, the kind performed in the study, is also the most commonly practiced form of massage, so you won’t be hard-pressed to find a specialist who performs that type.

The numbers are impressive. As many as 39% of those in the massage study said their pain was completely gone.  Only 4% of those in the usual care group had complete recoveries. This study showed that massage is not only for relaxation, but can also be instrumental for actual healing of your worst back ailments. “It’s not really harmful, and it does help a significant chunk of people who have not benefited from other treatments,” says study researcher Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD, associate director and senior scientific investigator with the Center for Health Studies at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.



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Massage Therapy and Flexibility


If you struggle with painful joints and don’t seem to have the same range of motion you did when you were younger, massage therapy may be a great treatment option. Massage doesn’t just focus on muscles, but also connective tissues, joints, ligaments, and tendons. It stimulates proper blood flow to the affected areas. If you’re an active person, you know all about the importance of stretching daily. Ensuring your muscles have proper blood flow and that joints are properly lubricated is crucial not only in the recovery process after exercise, but also for preventing sprains, soreness, and other injuries. Massage therapy is yet another tool to help keep you safe and injury-free.

Massage Therapy and the Immune System

We all know that when we’re stressed out, we tend to have a greater chance of getting sick. When you combine stress with eating badly and not getting enough sleep, you set up the perfect conditions for illness. Our immune systems struggle during these times to protect our bodies against viruses and infection. The good news is, massage therapy is not only a great way to relieve stress, but it also gives a direct boost to your immune system.

Gail Ironson, M.D., conducted a study in which men infected with HIV were given massages for 45 minutes, five days a week, for one month. Not only was there a boost in serotonin levels, one of the so-called “happy hormones”, but there was also an increase in the disease-fighting cells known as the first line of defense used by the immune system to ward off infection. If you keep up with a regular exercise and diet program, adding massage therapy to your regimen will not only help keep you limber, but it’ll keep your immune system working at maximum strength too.

Massage Therapy and Mental Health


You may be surprised to learn that massage therapy can also help people who suffer with depression and anxiety. Anxiety is a normal response, designed for survival. Cortisol, the stress hormone, fuels our muscles to prepare for a fight or flight response. While this survival mechanism may not be needed as much today as it was in our distant past, many people still have an overabundance of cortisol flooding their muscles, leading to health issues, such as headaches, insomnia, and digestion problems.

The thing about anxiety is, it tends to have physical symptoms you carry with you. Cortisol is stored in your muscles. So if you carry anxiety in your neck and shoulders, a massage specialist will target those specific areas. Because massage encourages bloodflow and increases serotonin, dopamine and even oxytocin levels, it allows cortisol to be released, reduces blood pressure and improves overall mood.

When you’re relaxed and comfortable, your body responds. You breathe better and will even find that you sleep better, which can help to prevent future depressive or anxious episodes.

Massage Therapy and Insomnia

In a lot of the same ways massage therapy can treat anxiety and depression, it can also help you sleep. “When you are deprived of deep sleep, certain kinds of pain chemicals are released,” explains Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. “But that changes with any kind of massage, whether for insomnia or increased flexibility or greater relaxation. There is a release of serotonin, which is the body’s natural production of anti-pain chemicals.

Massage is very effective at increasing deep sleep.” While massage itself is great for improved sleep, another study from the University of Maryland Medical Center has revealed that when combined with aromatherapy, massage can have an even greater impact on sleep. When a massage is given with essential oils, the benefits are increased. When lavender, for example, was added to a carrier oil and used in massage, individuals in a clinical study reported having a better night’s sleep. 

Massage is an incredibly under-utilized tool for treating a barrage of symptoms, conditions, and ailments. Whether you need some time for yourself to relax or have nagging chronic pain and insomnia, regular massage therapy has been proven to offer incredible results that other forms of treatment don’t. In a lot of ways, massage is still seen as a luxury only for the rich, but it can be a necessary tool for achieving maximum health. Many employee health benefits plans now cover massage therapy, making it more accessible for everyone.

Along with massage, exercise and a proper diet are important for proper health. At Longevity Living, we know how amazing you truly are! Like us on Facebook for more excellent, carefully researched information about health and wellness. Here’s to your longevity!


Sources: Anthony J. McGirr is an author/blogger who currently resides in Davison, Michigan.

Essential Oils for Thyroid Support

A Guide to Holistic Thyroid Care

There’s nothing new about the medicinal use of plants. Our ancestors used plants, including their seeds, wood and resins to care for themselves and their families. Happily, in more modern times we don’t have to forage in the forest for our medicines; nowadays we’re blessed with the convenience of little glass bottles brimming with pure, healing essential oils.


Essential oils are 50–75% more powerful than the herb or plant itself, so a little goes a long way.

I was brought up with them. Lavender, peppermint and lemon were part of our family first aid kit growing up, so to me, they were always medicine. One of the reasons I love essential oils is that I believe that everything we need to heal ourselves is provided by nature. Mother Nature knows more than humans ever will. Funnily enough, many pharmaceutical medications created in labs are just trying to mimic what nature is already capable of, so why not go with the original? As a kinesiologist and energy healer, I’m always studying holistic health.

Recently, I was lead to study essential oils, hoping to address a slight thyroid issue I had at the time. In case you don’t know, the thyroid gland is the master control center for the metabolic function of every single cell in your body. Because of this, if it is out of balance, it has the power to disrupt every part of your body and produce serious changes in every aspect of your life including mood, weight gain and low energy levels to name a few. I wanted to deal with some of these issues and get my health back.

How Do You Know if You Have a Thyroid Issue?  

Here are some of the possible indications:

Extreme fatigue. If you’re always tired, even after sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night, it’s a common sign that your thyroid hormone levels may be low. Of course, fatigue and low energy are associated with many conditions, but if you don’t have enough TH (thyroid hormone) flowing through your body, your muscles aren’t receiving the signal to get up and get moving.

Brain fog. If it feels as though you’re walking around in a fog all day, are having difficulty focusing or forgetting things frequently, it could be that your thyroid is out of whack. Too much TH can make it hard to concentrate, while too little can cause memory problems.

Digestive issues. Those with hypothyroidism often complain of constipation, as an underactive thyroid can cause the digestive process to slow. An overactive thyroid gland can cause the opposite problem, such as diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements.

Mood problems. Mood swings, anxiety or depression can often develop in those that have thyroid disorders. Anxiety and nervousness are linked to hyperthyroidism as the body is flooded constantly with a message to, “go, go, go,” causing it to go into overdrive.

Weight gain or loss. Putting on a few pounds can be caused by many different things, so few physicians will consider that alone as a symptom of a thyroid problem. But if you aren’t eating any more than usual, exercise regularly and still can’t seem to lose those extra pounds, it could very well be an underactive thyroid. On the other hand, a sudden loss of weight without really trying could be a symptom of hyperthyroidism.

What Can You do to Improve Your Thyroid Function?

Everyone is biochemically individual so there is no one set formula for all. However, if you suspect that your thyroid isn’t functioning well, I suggest that you check with your physician or health care practitioner so that they can arrange a blood test and recommend supplements.

Zinc, iodine, B vitamins, selenium and iron have all been found to be beneficial in balancing the thyroid. If your body is deficient in B12, vitamin A or vitamin D your thyroid may slow down its production of hormones, so make sure you are tested for those. Another very efficient way to balance the body is with essential oils. Oils that seem to have a beneficial effect on the thyroid include myrtle, myrrh and frankincense, among others. Let’s look at a few in detail.

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Myrtle (Myrtus communis) has a clear, fresh, herbaceous scent similar to eucalyptus and supports the respiratory system, skin and hair. It’s especially good for hair loss, which is a symptom of hyperthyroidism. Myrtle essential oil has been researched by Daniel Penoel, M.D. of France who found that it normalizes hormonal imbalances of both the thyroid and the ovaries.

Myrtle is an adaptogen — a substance that stimulates a gland when its functioning is low, or suppresses an overactive gland. Myrtle either stimulates an increase or a decrease in thyroid activity specifically, depending on a person’s condition. Another essential oil that is sometimes used for normalizing the thyroid is myrrh.

This oil has been used as a natural remedy for hypothyroidism, or a low functioning thyroid, as it helps to decrease stress on an overtaxed thyroid. Symptoms like fatigue, depression, brain fog, headaches and digestive issues can be reduced using peppermint essential oil. Put a tiny drop of pure organic peppermint oil into a cup of hot water with lemon to make an instant uplifting tea. Add some chamomile to this mixture at night to calm anxiety, assist with digestion and help you get to sleep.

Frankincense is the Big Boy as it has a plethora of uses for a number of different imbalances in the body. Dr. Josh Axe, a holistic doctor and expert in functional medicine, suggests that taking a tiny drop of food-grade frankincense oil orally may act in the same way that digestive enzymes do and help to speed up the digestive process.

*There are serious contraindications for frankincense, so please see below.

Another basic and excellent essential oil to fight anxiety, hair loss, stress and insomnia is lavender. If you suffer from any of these issues, rub a bit of lavender oil on your pillow, use it in a diffuser, as a scalp massage with your shampoo or add a couple of drops to a hot bath at night with Epsom salts or a magnesium soak for a relaxing bedtime ritual.

The University of Maryland found that individuals who rubbed rosemary oil on their scalp every day for seven months while shampooing their hair saw significant hair re-growth and reduced hair loss on a consistent basis. It’s a wonderful tonic for stress, digestive upset, joint pain and inflammation too. Might be worth a try!

Remember the quality of the essential oils you use is crucial. I use oils that are organic, pure and unadulterated.

More Tips for Taking Care of Your Thyroid

Remember that essential oils can be part of a plan for balancing the thyroid, but improving your overall lifestyle and diet is also necessary. Chemicals found in cleaning and hygiene products can interfere with thyroid function, as can fluoride found in tap water and heavily processed forms of soy, corn and sugar found in packaged foods. Too much exposure to these substances on a regular basis can weaken thyroid function, exhausting the body quickly.

Nature gave us exactly what we need to heal our bodies. Increase your intake of organic leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and healthy fats like avocado, coconut and olive oil. If you eat animal products, be sure to choose wild, pastured, organic, and/or grass-fed sources to avoid herbicides, pesticides and GMOs that can weaken the body and interfere with optimal thyroid function.

How do I use essential oils?

You have to use caution with anything, even when it’s natural. It is very important to remember that not everything from nature is safe for everyone — indeed many things can be quite dangerous. Every body is individual; something that might be beneficial for one person could easily be harmful to another.

Due to the molecular composition of EOs, they’re easily absorbed by the skin and can be safely applied topically, sometimes diluted with a carrier oil and sometimes ‘neat’ (undiluted). Once they’re applied, essential oils can have an almost immediate, localized effect on the area where applied. However, before applying topically, do a skin test. Dilute a small amount and apply to the skin on your inner arm. Do not use if redness or irritation occurs. You can still use the oil by inhalation or diffuser to receive the benefit of it or try another oil that has some of the same benefits.

The bottoms of your feet boast the largest pores on your body and allow for quick absorption into the bloodstream in order to reach all glands and organs. This makes it a great place to apply your essential oils. You can pinpoint the thyroid by focusing on the area beneath the ball of your foot below your big toe, where it meets the arch. 


  1. NEVER put essential oils into the eyes or ears. Be sure to use caution, but if you accidentally get some in your eyes, use pure olive oil to dilute and rinse from the eyes. For the skin, in the case of a negative reaction, any carrier oil will do. Dilute well and then wipe off. DO NOT rinse with water. Water will only enhance the oil’s ability to penetrate and push the oil deeper into sensitive tissues.
  2. Essential oils can be taken internally, but you do need to use caution. I do not recommend it unless you are under the direct supervision of a health-care professional trained in essential oil use.
  3. Some essential oils will cause the skin to become photosensitive. Always use caution if you are using citrus oils and will be in the sun.
  4. If you are pregnant please consult your physician about using oils. Some essential oils can be harmful to unborn babies.
  5. People who have high blood pressure (hypertension) should avoid using these oils: hyssop, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
  6. People who have low blood pressure should avoid the more sedating oils such as clary sage, ylang ylang and lavender.
  7. If you suffer from epilepsy avoid these oils: fennel, hyssop, rosemary and all types of sage.
  8. If you suffer from asthma, the oil of wild rosemary may aggravate your condition.
  9. Keep essential oils closed tightly and out of the reach of children.
  10. Keep essential oils out of sunlight and extreme temperatures. All aromatherapy products should be stored in a dark, cool environment.
  11. If you experience redness, burning, itching or any irritation while using essential oils, discontinue use immediately.

* In Western medicine, frankincense oil is of interest because of its anti-inflammatory properties, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Some side effects are possible, but the MSKCC notes that frankincense seems to have fewer negative effects than drugs that treat inflammatory conditions, such as steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Gastrointestinal side effects are possible when taking frankincense oil, according to the Physician’s’ Desktop Reference. They may include an upset stomach, nausea, stomach pain, burning sensations or an unpleasant feeling of fullness. Frankincense oil can also make an upset stomach or stomach pain worse. Frankincense oil has blood-thinning effects and can increase the risk of abnormal bleeding, as noted by the University of Maryland Medical Center. This is of primary concern for people with a bleeding disorder or anyone taking medications or other herbs with anti-coagulant effects, such as warfarin, heparin, ibuprofen, aspirin or ginkgo biloba. Anyone scheduled for a surgical or dental procedure should stop taking frankincense oil well beforehand.

Author: Linda Penny,

When Anxiety Attacks: Getting Back to Calm

We all feel anxious from time to time. Money may be a bit tight and we’re not sure how we will pay our bills at the end of the month. We have a looming confrontation with a friend. We are up for our annual review at work. For some, though, this unpleasant sensation is a more frequent companion and it can come on quite strongly, often without any outside trigger. In these moments, you are consumed with anxiety. It is intense and you feel helpless. There is a sense that something terrible will happen, no matter how illogical that may be given the circumstances. These experiences can be debilitating and greatly impact our quality of life, causing depression or social isolation. Here are some tips for getting centered and weathering the storm.



This piece of advice may not seem very satisfying but it is the most helpful without a doubt. You see, when we resist the negative feelings we’re experiencing, we feel even worse. By resisting the intense anxiety, you may create even more of it. Don’t push against it. Don’t pretend you don’t feel it. Don’t try to force yourself to calm down. Don’t berate yourself for having the episode. Remind yourself that you are simply feeling fearful, but you aren’t in any immediate danger. You have to work with the anxiety, not against it. You don’t have to try and force it go away…it will eventually pass as it always does.


Do a quick reality check. Ask yourself what is really happening right now. When you go over the facts of the present moment, it will sink in more clearly that you truly are okay. You may not feel great; your anxiety may have been triggered by an unpleasant situation that you would have rather avoided, but all in all, you’re safe. There are no real threats to your well-being. Being more in the present will get you grounded because the anxiety is being caused by a fear of something happening in the future. Re-engage in the activities you were doing before the anxiety surfaced. Tune into your body; note where you are feeling tension and try to relax with some stretching or some kind of movement.



Consciously working with your breath can do wonders for anxiety and there are all sorts of breathing exercises designed to produce specific effects. Some are meant to stimulate while others are meant for calming. Breathing exercises can be particularly helpful for anxiety because the shallow breathing that usually accompanies an episode can induce even more anxiety. Here are three kinds that may work particularly well when the anxiety is coming on strong:

  • Coherent Breathing: Coherent breathing is breathing at a rate of five breaths a minute. Breathing in and out at about five seconds each will get you there. This rate of breathing optimizes heart rate variability, which is an indicator of how well the nervous system is functioning. The higher the rate (i.e. the longer each inhale and exhale), the better the stress response, meaning the more easily you will be able to calm yourself.
  • Resistance Breathing: Resistance breathing is pretty self-explanatory–breathing in such a way that you create resistance to the normal air flow. It is commonly used as a way to strengthen respiratory muscles or in disciplines like tai chi and yoga. You can perform resistance breathing by pursing your lips and resting the tip of your tongue against the inside part of your upper teeth, holding your nose or breathing through a straw.
  • Breath Moving: Breath moving was created by Russian monks in the 11th century to help holy warriors protect and empower themselves while protecting their territory from invaders. It involves imagining sending your breath to different parts of your body. This can serve as a helpful distraction from the anxiety at hand and be quite relaxing. As you inhale, imagine your breath moving to the top of your head, and as you exhale, imagine it traveling down your spine. Do this for 10 cycles. It is important to keep in mind that breathing exercises are good to do even when you are not having an anxiety episode. The more you can create a sense of calm in your life overall, the more resilient you will become mentally and emotionally. The anxiety will decrease and when it does strike, it won’t be as intense and won’t last as long.

It is easy to feel helpless and like a hostage to an erratic and unpredictable mind. Commit to experimenting with different techniques to see what works for you, and be more proactive in tending to your mental and emotional health. Article Resources:


Maximizing Weight Loss Success: The Role of Sleep in Slimming Down

When it comes to weight loss, the cornerstone strategies have always been to eat fewer calories and exercise more. Certainly solid advice for sure. But our bodies are complex, intricate machines and it is becoming clear that so many other factors influence our weight and our ability to shed those extra pounds. One factor that has been getting more attention recently is the amount and quality of sleep we get. There is a lot of evidence linking a lack of sleep with obesity.


Now, does this mean that simply getting more sleep will help you get to a healthier weight? Probably not…there is no magic bullet. But, it can certainly be a helpful addition to your toolbox. When it comes to improving our health on any front, a holistic approach that targets multiple areas will give us our best chance at success.

Now, does this mean that simply getting more sleep will help you get to a healthier weight? Probably not…there is no magic bullet. But, it can certainly be a helpful addition to your toolbox. When it comes to improving our health on any front, a holistic approach that targets multiple areas will give us our best chance at success.

Research on Sleep and Weight

While not every study has found a link between sleep and weight, the majority have, according to Harvard University, making a strong case for a relationship between them. The largest study examining sleeping habits and weight is the Nurse’s Health Study, which tracked 68,000 women for up to 16 years. Compared to women who slept seven hours a night, those who got five or fewer hours of sleep nightly were 15 percent more likely to become obese over this period. Other studies have found that sleeping a shorter amount of time increases insulin resistance, which may lead the body to store more fat.

Insufficient Sleep May Influence Food Choices


There have been several studies examining the effects of sleep duration on food choices, and several have found that not getting enough sleep may cause cravings for junk foods, particularly simple carbohydrates in the form of cakes, cookies, soda and the like. And we all know these foods are enemy number one if you want to achieve weight-loss success. One such study from Berkeley examined the brain regions that govern food choices and found some interesting results. Using MRIs, the researchers performed brain scans on 23 participants after both a normal amount of sleep and after a sleepless night.

What participants craved was measured by having them rate their level of desire for 80 different foods (shown to them in pictures), which were a mix of low- and high-calorie, healthy and unhealthy. Scans from the latter period found impaired activity in the frontal lobe, which is responsible for complex decision-making, and increased activity in areas of the brain that respond to rewards. They also noted stronger preferences for unhealthier foods. In other words, the part of the brain that would aid us in making healthy choices becomes a bit fuzzy and the part that controls desire gets amped up. 

What participants craved was measured by having them rate their level of desire for 80 different foods (shown to them in pictures), which were a mix of low- and high-calorie, healthy and unhealthy. Scans from the latter period found impaired activity in the frontal lobe, which is responsible for complex decision-making, and increased activity in areas of the brain that respond to rewards. They also noted stronger preferences for unhealthier foods. In other words, the part of the brain that would aid us in making healthy choices becomes a bit fuzzy and the part that controls desire gets amped up. 

How Sleep May Affect Weight


The amount of sleep we get likely influences our weight on many fronts, with the net results being an increase in food intake or a decrease in the number of calories burned. Not getting enough sleep may increase hunger by increasing the production of hormones that stimulate the appetite and decreasing production of those that help control it, that send signals to the brain telling us that we’re full. Staying awake longer may also contribute. The longer you are awake, the more time you have to eat.

Some experiments have found that people who were sleep-deprived tended to eat more when food was readily available, particularly during the hours when you would normally be sleeping. Furthermore, not getting enough sleep causes a drop in body temperature, which may lead to burning fewer calories, but there is not a lot of research into this as of yet. And let’s face it, aside from the physiological changes that not sleeping enough may cause, not getting enough sleep can also lead to all sorts of problematic behavior that could impact your weight loss efforts.

When you are tired, you do less. When you are tired, you are more likely to get stressed out, and when you are feeling stressed and unhappy, you are less likely to make healthy choices. You feel more pessimistic and you just don’t care about your well-being as much. When you are well-rested, you are in a better state of mind, and you feel better physically and emotionally. When you feel good, you want to make choices that will keep you feeling good.

Staying awake longer may also contribute. The longer you are awake, the more time you have to eat. Some experiments have found that people who were sleep-deprived tended to eat more when food was readily available, particularly during the hours when you would normally be sleeping. Furthermore, not getting enough sleep causes a drop in body temperature, which may lead to burning fewer calories, but there is not a lot of research into this as of yet. And let’s face it, aside from the physiological changes that not sleeping enough may cause, not getting enough sleep can also lead to all sorts of problematic behavior that could impact your weight loss efforts.

When you are tired, you do less. When you are tired, you are more likely to get stressed out, and when you are feeling stressed and unhappy, you are less likely to make healthy choices. You feel more pessimistic and you just don’t care about your well-being as much. When you are well-rested, you are in a better state of mind, and you feel better physically and emotionally. When you feel good, you want to make choices that will keep you feeling good.

When you are tired, you do less. When you are tired, you are more likely to get stressed out, and when you are feeling stressed and unhappy, you are less likely to make healthy choices. You feel more pessimistic and you just don’t care about your well-being as much. When you are well-rested, you are in a better state of mind, and you feel better physically and emotionally. When you feel good, you want to make choices that will keep you feeling good.

The amount of sleep you get is probably not the missing link that will all of a sudden help you lose weight easily. It’s just one piece of the puzzle, but it is shaping up to be quite an important piece. Again, your best approach is a holistic one. All of the small changes you make to your habits and routine will have a cumulative effect, giving you the greatest chance of success.


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Like Butter: How to Melt Away Anxiety, Tension and Other Yuck

Most of us aren’t ending our days on a high note. We feel tired and cranky. Stress is flowing through our veins. Anxiety and mental discord may be running high. We worry about tomorrow before the sun even sets on today. Our bodies feel like lead. Sound familiar? If it does, you know this isn’t a pleasant experience. It also isn’t one you have to endure. We get so caught up in the craziness, and are so used to feeling badly, we can easily forget it doesn’t have to be this way. In our culture, somewhere along the way, we picked up this idea that being stressed and harried is a badge of honor, something to be proud of. It’s not. Don’t you want a healthier body and mind? Don’t you want to be able to handle the stresses of life with greater ease? Don’t you want to just feel happier? Is that a yes? The good news is, you don’t have to become some master of your mind and body to reap these benefits. You just have to be willing to do a few things a little differently, and experiment a bit to see what works best for you.


Here are just a few techniques that can chip away at stress and other junk making your mind and body feel 10 different kinds of bad:


We breathe all day long without giving it a second thought. But when we consciously tune into our breath, we can regulate it, and that can do wonders. We can breathe in a way that invigorates us, and we can breathe in ways that relax us. For just five minutes, take a break and zero in on your breathing. Sit up straight, close your eyes and place your hand on your stomach. Inhale slowly through your nose, and see how the breath moves up your body to your head. As you exhale through your mouth, observe the journey the opposite way. Not only does it help you stay in the moment, detaching you from whatever is floating around in your head, it physically calms you by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.



Humans seem to have a tendency to focus in on all that is wrong with our lives. The pull of negative emotion is quite strong, and we feel justified in feeling badly if there is anything in our existence we don’t like. But that mode of operating is a choice, a force of habit and it can be changed. It’s okay to want something better, but you can do wonders for anxiety, tension and other yuck, by focusing in on what is good about your life now, both the big stuff and the little things. We take so much for granted. We are so used to having certain things, we don’t realize how lucky we are. A great exercise to do at the end of your day, or perhaps when you are engaging in your relaxing ‘me time’ is a gratitude journal. Write down all that you are grateful for in your life overall, and all of the things for which you feel grateful that day. There is nothing too small here. An article in Forbes magazine that laid out the results of various studies on gratitude found that it provided a multitude of benefits, such as fewer aches and pains, reduced feelings of resentment, anger, depression, envy and frustration, enhanced empathy, reduced aggression and improved sleep. Not too shabby for such a simple practice.


Interest in meditation is continually expanding in the West as more and more people realize the profound effects of such a simple practice. It can actually alter the brain’s neural pathways, providing a number of benefits, such as making us more resistant to stress and altering how our body responds to pain. Meditating can be a great way to relax both the mind and body and a growing body of research is beginning to validate what people have known about this practice for thousands of years. Researchers from Johns Hopkins sought to get a better picture of meditation’s true effects by finding quality studies that had good controls and didn’t primarily consist of people who already meditated and were therefore more likely to report positive benefits. They sifted through 19,000 studies and found 47 that fit the bill. Their findings, which were published in a January 2014 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, concluded that meditation is a highly effective way to deal with stress, anxiety and physical pain. You no longer have to be a victim of a tense body and an even tenser mind. You can take back control and proactively get to a place of enhanced wellness. It will be a process, but if you keep at it, the good habits will take root.


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Too Blessed to Be Stressed? The Power of Gratitude for Calm and Well-Being

Gratitude is one of those things that we really don’t think about too much. We are so used to complaining about our lives and putting our focus on what we don’t like in our experience. Your mind feels very justified in doing that, and as such, you feel entitled to feel like crud about your life because not every single aspect of it is to your preference. We tend not to appreciate something fully until we lose it, almost lose it, or experience something terrible that makes us realize how good things are.


This is just how it goes sometimes, but we don’t have to wait to get to that point to see all we have to be grateful for. You want more out of life and it’s cool…we are here to create. You don’t like certain things and you feel bad about them…totally understandable. But, we have to realize we have a choice when it comes to how we view our life and the perspectives we adopt. Our mental and emotional state makes a huge difference in our day to day experience, and influences us on countless levels, from how stressed we feel to our physical health and well-being.


Where we put our attention primarily is a huge factor in shaping our day to day experience. The more we notice the ‘bad’, the more ‘bad’ we seem to create for ourselves. The more we notice the good, the more good that seems to show up in our lives. Regularly practicing gratitude…as in actually feeling it, and not just giving lip service, creates a space for even more things for which to be grateful to make their way into your life.

When you really move into a space of gratitude for even just a few minutes, everything can change. The problems that are troubling don’t seem so bad anymore. You can feel better physically…aches, pains, and tension can start to transform as they are primarily caused by stress and other mental yuck. You see, it is simply a matter of perspective, and you more easily choose empowering, positive ones.



Regularly expressing gratitude can improve your physical health in many ways. Several studies have found that this offering of thanks has been found to improve cholesterol and blood pressure and help you get a good night’s sleep among other physical health benefits. Psychologist and gratitude researcher Dr. Robert Emmons states people who regularly express gratitude tend to exercise more, smoke and drink less, eat better and take their medications properly.

People who express gratitude are found to report less pain and being in overall better health than other people. One practice many people who express gratitude regularly use to get a better night’s sleep is jot down a few things for which to be grateful before turning in for the night. Expressing gratitude seems to have big implications for physical well-being… it doesn’t take a lot of time and it’s free. Not a bad tool to have in your arsenal.


Who couldn’t stand to be more mentally healthy? Well, gratitude can help get you there for sure, according to several studies over the last few years. It really isn’t that surprising as gratitude can help us reduce myriad poisonous emotions that sabotage our well-being at every turn. Here are just a few of the awesome findings. In 2012 researchers from the University of Kentucky found that people who expressed gratitude were less likely to experience negative emotion, the desire for revenge and the like when people behaved unkindly to them. They had increased empathy towards others.

A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found gratitude increased self-esteem in athletes. Other research suggests gratitude reduces the tendency the compare ourselves to others, which has gone into overdrive thanks to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram…we now have the ability to compare ourselves to dozens of people within mere minutes. Not good. Gratitude may enhance resilience and make it easier to cope with traumatic events as evidenced by a 2006 study on Vietnam War vets and post-traumatic stress disorder, and a 2003 study about the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Practicing gratitude is not something that takes a huge chunk of time and energy. You can do it in any moment, whether you are stuck in traffic on your morning commute or waiting in line at the grocery store. Right at the start of your day would probably be a great way to get things off on the right foot. We are used to focusing on what we don’t want and like, and it can take a bit to foster this habit, but it will get easier over time. You just have to remember to do it.


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5 Categories of Relaxation Techniques for Finding What Works Best for You

It’s no news flash that stress takes a serious toll on our physical and mental health. As the University of Maryland Medical Center reports, well over half of all doctor office visits in the U.S. are somehow tied to stress-related disorders. As life gets faster and more hectic, multitasking and electronic devices ever more essential, diets less healthy, physical activity rarer, and economic pressure more profound, our stress levels continuously rise and our ability to cope keeps diminishing. Finding natural ways to calm down, melt away the stress, and regain some sense of control is essential for maintaining our sanity and our physical health, as unchecked stress increases the risk of developing a wide variety of chronic diseases. Relaxation techniques are a safe, holistic, effective tool for beating stress. There are a lot to choose from, and not every technique works as well for some people as for others. Finding techniques that suit your preferences and schedule and that are personally effective can take some trail and error. Here are five categories of relaxation techniques to familiarize yourself with. Read through and pick the one that sounds most amenable. Try techniques from the category consistently for a few weeks to see how it goes (all techniques take practice and patience to become useful), and if necessary, switch to another category. Eventually, you’ll find exactly the right type and specific technique to de-stress and approach each day feeling renewed.

Autogenic Relaxation Techniques

“Autogenic” refers to coming from within you. It is, in essence, a way to train your body to relax on command. You begin by closing your eyes and imagining a peaceful place, repeating a soothing word or phrase that you will come to associate with relaxing. At the same time, focus on sensations in your body, such as breathing or your heart beat, and bring them under your control. This can be practiced generally for a while to get a feel for whether it’s a good fit for your personality and needs. If you decide to get serious about autogenic training for relaxation, there is a series of six basic exercises to master; read up on them or find an instructor.

Meditative Relaxation Techniques

There are many types of meditation, but at their most basic, the practices all revolve around focusing on a single point of reference. The point of reference can be your own breathing, a repeated word or phrase (called a mantra, as in transcendental meditation), a sound, a fixed mental image, an object, a bodily sensation, or something else. Meditation is often performed with eyes closed and in a seated position with proper posture. Meditation seems easy in theory, but can be quite difficult to master. Taking some guided meditation courses with a qualified professional goes a long way toward helping you get the hang of it. If you’re the type who has trouble sitting still, meditation may seem like a poor choice, but it can be particularly rewarding if you stick with it.

Breathing Relaxation Techniques

As with meditation, there are a variety of ways to employ your own breathing in relaxation techniques. A common approach is to place one open palm on your chest and the other on your belly as you breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, hold it, then exhale through your mouth, focusing on the sensations of your chest and stomach rising and falling. Hold your breath for up to 7 seconds, and make sure the hand on your abdomen rises higher than the one on your chest. Your exhalations should take about twice as long as your inhalations.

Visualization Relaxation Techniques

This technique is based on taking yourself on a soothing mental journey to a calming place. Though it’s called visualization, it involves all the senses, not just sight. Close your eyes and imagine yourself relaxing in a peaceful place. Engage all your senses by noting, for example, the blueness of the sky, the smell of the air, the taste of a cool drink, the feel of the grass beneath you, and the sound of birds chirping. This technique is best practiced seated in a comfortable, quiet place in comfy clothing (or perhaps none at all). If you search online for guided imagery recordings, you’ll find lots of free pre-recorded narrations to help you along a relaxing visualization journey.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques

Like many relaxation techniques, progressive muscle relaxation involves focusing in on a particular point of reference. In this case, it’s bodily sensations created by tensing and releasing muscle groups in a progressive order. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and begin at your toes one foot at a time, tensing them up slowly, holding for 5 seconds, then gradually releasing. Relax for 30 seconds, then tense muscles in your foot the same way, then move up to your calves and thighs, all the way up to facial muscles. Focus closely on what you feel the entire time. The more you practice this, the better you’ll get at isolating smaller muscle groups.

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5 At-Home Relaxation Techniques for De-Stressing After Work

Over time, stress can really take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Common complaints accompanying chronic and acute stress include headaches, tension, muscle stiffness or aches, chest pain, trouble concentrating or remembering things, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation, diminished sex drive, weight loss or gain, anxiety, irritability, social withdrawal, and plenty more. Stress can also exacerbate existing diseases and conditions and put you at higher risk for additional health concerns, such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, breakouts of skin problems, and menstrual irregularities. Just reading it all is pretty stressful. If life at work is stressing you out day after day, it’s important to your short- and long-term well-being that you take steps to remedy the problem. Set aside even just a few minutes each day to try one or more of the following five at-home relaxation techniques. As the Mayo Clinic explains, relaxation techniques help melt away the stress, lower elevated blood pressure and heart rate, stabilize your breathing, reduce the effects of high stress hormone levels, cut down on muscle tension and chronic pain, improve blood flow, promote more restful sleep, boost your focus and mood, and just generally keep you feeling your best.


There are lots of ways to meditate, but mostly it comes down to finding a way to focus one just one thing and tuning out everything else. Often, people focus on their breathing, an uplifting word or short phrase (known as a mantra), or a sound. If you use a mantra, bring it into sync with your breathing. Close your eyes and assume a comfortable but properly postured position in a room free of distractions. Concentrate only on your focal point until all other thoughts vanish.

Deep Breathing

This is similar to meditation, and can be combined with it for greater stress-busting effects, but it is its own technique that can become quite powerful with practice. Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and place one open palm over your stomach. Take in slow, deep inhalations through your nose, feeling your abdomen swell and the air filling you up, then exhale gradually through your mouth, concentrating on your body emptying out the air.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Systematically tensing and relaxing muscles throughout your body is a great way to beat stress and especially for relieving some of its physical manifestations. Wear loose clothes or get naked and take a few minutes to chill out. Start with one foot, then move to the next; squeeze the muscles tight and hold it for 10 seconds, then ease off until the foot is totally limp. Pause for at least a few seconds between body parts and always do one side at a time; move up to your calves, then your thighs, hips, buttocks, stomach, chest, back, arms, hands, shoulders, neck, and face. You’ll get better and better at isolating smaller muscle groups, with practice.

Yoga or Tai Chi

These movement-based relaxation exercises are best to do with a live, professional instructor to ensure proper technique and to prevent injury, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do them at home. If you do take a class or hire a coach, practice what your learn at home. Another option is to invest in some instructional DVDs. The stretching, gentle movements, and held poses do wonders for your physical and mental health, and there’s plenty of room for progression as you improve your physique and capabilities.

Stimulate Your Senses

Engaging your senses with gentle, relaxing stimuli offers lots of opportunities for de-stressing. For example, put together a playlist of soothing sounds. Rain, the ocean, animals, and other natural sounds work well for many people, as do white noise machines; quiet, calming music is another way to go. Sitting peacefully with candles, incense, or essential oils giving off relaxing scents (aromatherapy) is another approach. Lavender, patchouli, jasmine, chamomile, bergamot, and geranium are commonly used.

Keep in Mind

It takes practice to get the hang of relaxation techniques. It also takes some time to start really noticing and appreciating the benefits. Be patient, practice, ask a professional for guidance if you need it, and pay attention to positive and negative signals from your body. You don’t want your efforts to relax to inadvertently become just another source of stress for you. Also, not every technique works well for every individual. If you’re not seeing improvement with some time and consistent effort, try something else.

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Top 5 Relaxation Apps

Technology has helped us in many ways. It’s also made it harder than ever to disconnect from the always-connected world we live in today. With our incredibly busy lives, finding time to step away can seem like a difficult task. Especially if you work a regular 9 to 5, getting that time, however little it is, to relax during the workday, is seemingly out of the question. While we can use our smartphones or tablets to browse the endless posts on Facebook or play Candy Crush to pass away the time, we can also use them to get back to zen. There are many relaxation apps out there, and here are the top five you should look into installing right now:


Calm is from the creators of, an incredibly simple website that offers a number of soothing sounds, and set times for how long you want to take a break. The app is free on both iOS and Android, and when you fire it up, you’re presented with a “scene.” Each scene has a different sound, and to switch to a different scene, you simply swipe left or right. Once you’re ready to go, tap “Meditate,” then “Timer.” There, you can select as little as one minute, all the way up to a custom number you set. For those who want more guidance on such subjects as better focus or positivity, and/or want to learn meditation, Calm offers an affordable monthly or yearly plan.


Buddhify is basically the Beats Music for mindfulness. What makes it unique compared to other relaxation apps is the ability to select what it is you’re currently doing, and it offers guided audio tracks specifically for that, over 80 at the time of writing this. Each audio track lasts anywhere from five to 30 minutes, and you can always go with the “Just meditation” options or have it offer up suggestions. The app also has a “Solo” option, which similar to Calm, is a timer and sounds without the guided talks. Buddhify is available on Android for $2.99, and iOS for $4.99.

The Mindfulness App

The Mindfulness App is as simple as it gets, and offers up several different categories: Guided meditation, silent meditation with bells, mindfulness notices, and personalized meditation. Guided meditation is fairly straightforward, helping you get into a more relaxed state lasting anywhere from three minutes to 30 minutes. Silent meditation with bells is similar to Calm and Buddhify where you can set a specific time, and not have a guided session. Mindfulness notices are reminders you can set up to be notified at a certain time everyday to take time to relax, and personalized meditation lets you tweak your session to be as long as you need it to be. To keep an eye on your progress, a statistics page will let you know which meditations you most frequent, the total number of times you’ve meditated, and the overall time spent based on the week, month, or year. The Mindfulness App will run you $1.99 on Android, and $2.99 on iOS.

Relax Melodies

With Relax Melodies, it’s all in the name. One of the most popular sleep aid apps, the app has a wide range of sounds that extend beyond helping you get and stay asleep. There are nearly 100 clips to choose from, ranging anywhere from sounds of the ocean or a waterfall to a cat purring. One particularly interesting feature is the ability to create custom mixes of sounds. You can choose from a number of different instruments and audio tracks, giving you “thousands” of possibilities. If you have any favorite audio tracks, you can save them to listen to later. Like many free apps nowadays, you can get access to more features by upgrading. Relax Melodies is only available on Android, and comes with 48 different sounds. However, if you want access to the full arsenal and other goodies like no banner ads, that’ll run you $2.99.

Mindfulness Daily

Mindfulness Daily is only available on iOS, costing $2.99, but it offers up some good features, which are:

  • Simple Start program: 21 days of free mindfulness audio lessons. Themes include mindful breathing, body awareness, kindness, and present moment awareness.
  • Pause button: take a 15-second mindful Pause whenever you’re stressed or catch yourself on autopilot.
  • Reminders: set personal reminders to nudge yourself to be mindful throughout the day.
  • Practice library: select from a library of guided and self-guided practices. Extended practices available for purchase.
  • Lifelog: notice patterns and gain insights from your Lifelog as your commitment to mindfulness takes root.
  • Remix: after you’ve completed 21 days of mindfulness, use the unlocked Remix feature to continue practicing mindfulness your way.

It’s also one of the most beautifully designed relaxation apps on this list. However, it doesn’t offer a timer function without the guided audio portion.

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