A simple breathing and relaxation can be very useful for a variety of conditions, from migraine and high blood pressure to cancer. Almost everyone can learn the technique and it can offer immediate and, at times, quite dramatic reduction in the effects of anxiety and muscle tension, and on the nervous system that controls blood pressure and the digestive tract. Many people with cancer, and indeed many of their relatives, can be helped to relax and experience a sense of calmness if taught these simple methods. One can learn the techniques at home using an audio, or join a group. Self-help exercises require motivation and constant practice if the person is going to benefit, and this may best be achieved by attending group classes.

Lying flat may be uncomfortable for people who are breathless or in pain. That, however, shouldn't discourage you since many relaxation exercises can be done sitting up or using pillows for support.

There are many methods of relaxation. Some of them are:

Visual Concentration and Rhythmic Massage: Open your eyes and stare at an object, or close your eyes and think of a peaceful, calm scene. With the palm of your hand, massage near the area of pain in a circular, firm manner. Avoid red, raw, swollen, or tender areas. You may wish to ask a family member or friend to do this for you.

Inhale/Tense, Exhale/Relax:

1. Breathe in (inhale) deeply. At the same time, tense your muscles or a group of muscles. For example, you can squeeze your eyes shut, frown, clench your teeth, make a fist, stiffen your arms and legs, or draw up your arms and legs as tightly as you can.

2. Hold your breath and keep your muscles tense for a second or two

3. Let go! Breathe out (exhale) and let your body go limp.

Slow Rhythmic Breathing:

1. Stare at an object or close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing or on a scene.

2. Take a slow, deep breath and, as you breathe in, tense your muscles (such as your arms).

3. As you breathe out, relax your muscles and feel the tension draining.

4. Now remain relaxed and begin breathing slowly and comfortably, concentrating on your breathing, taking about 9 to 12 breaths a minute. Do not breathe too deeply.

5. To maintain a slow, even rhythm as you breathe out, you can say silently to yourself, "In, one, two; out, one, two." It may be helpful at first if someone counts .

out loud for you. If you ever feel out of breath, take a deep breath and then continue the slow breathing exercise. Each time you breathe out, feel yourself relaxing and going limp. If some muscles are not relaxed such as your shoulders, tense them as you breathe in and relax them as you breathe out. You need to do this only once or twice for each specific muscle group.

6. Continue slow, rhythmic breathing for a few seconds up to 10 minutes, depeacefulpending on your need.

7. To end your slow rhythmic breathing, count silently and slowly from one to three. Open your eyes. Say silently to yourself: "I feel alert and relaxed." Begin moving about slowly.

Other Methods You Can Add To Slow Rhythmic Breathing:

  • Imagery.

  • Listen to slow, familiar music through an earphone or headset.

  • Progressive relaxation of body parts. Once you are breathing slowly and comfortably, you may relax different body parts, starting with your feet and working up to your head. Think of words such as limp, heavy, light, warm, or floating. Each time you breathe out, you can focus on a particular area of the body and feel it relaxing. Try to imagine that the tension is draining from that area. For example, as you breathe out, feel your feet and ankles relaxing; the next time you breathe out feel your calves and knees relaxing, and so on up your body.


Distraction means turning your attention to something other than the pain. Many people use this method without realizing it when they watch television or listen to the radio to "take their minds off" the pain.

Distraction may work better than medicine if pain is sudden and intense or if it is brief, lasting only 5 to 45 minutes. Distraction is useful when one is waiting for the pain killer to start working. It can be a temporary relief for even the most intense pain.

Any activity that occupies one's attention can be used for distraction. If you enjoy working with your hands, crafts such as needlework, model building, or painting may be useful. Losing yourself in a good book might divert your mind from the pain. Going to a movie or watching television are also good distraction methods. Slow, rhythmic breathing can be used for distraction as well as relaxation.


These groups can be a source of information and support and can provide an opportunity for people to talk about their feelings. Health professionals, doctors and nurses, counselors or psychotherapists in a hospital run some groups. More commonly, people with cancer run groups. They often offer different techniques to teach coping strategies together with relaxation or visualization, as well as practical information and emotional support.