Relaxation and Mindfulness

Relaxation skills

It is recommended you start with ‘Learning relaxation skills’, before moving onto ‘Deep breathing exercise’, and ‘Deep relaxation skills’. Click on the headings below to see each exercise detail.

With practise you can learn skills in deep breathing and deep relaxation which will help to ease feelings of tension. A good place to start is by learning the deep breathing exercise for relaxation. Once you have got the hang of this you may want to try out some of the other deep relaxation exercises. Do read through the general guidelines before you have a go at these.

General guidelines for relaxation

  • Choose a time of day when you will not be disturbed.
  • Make sure that the room is as quiet as possible (you may want to turn off your phone).
  • Lie or sit in a comfortable position on the bed or in a chair with your legs uncrossed and your arms lying comfortably by your side or in your lap.
  • Loosen any tight clothing.
  • You should practise the relaxation routine at least once a day, more often if you wish.
  • Try to get into the habit of practising around the same time each day.
  • It is best not to practise straight after a heavy meal.
  • How soon relaxation exercises work varies. Some people get immediate benefit, whilst others find they need to practise for a week or even longer.
  • It’s often good not to ‘try too hard’ at relaxation: Don’t try to ‘force it’.
  • Most people find that their mind wanders when they first start practising – don’t worry about this. If your thoughts wander, gently bring your concentration back to the exercise.
  • During deep relaxation you may experience feelings of floating or tingling. You may ‘drift off’ or forget what you have heard. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
  • Remember, learning to relax is a skill and takes time and regular practise.

Do not listen to relaxation recordings whilst driving or operating machinery.
If the exercises cause an increase in your distress or worrying thoughts do not continue without consulting a health professional.

Introduction to relaxation: 1 minute, 2 seconds

Download ‘Introduction to relaxation’


Guidelines for relaxation practice: 1 minute, 12 seconds

Download ‘Guidelines for relaxation practice’


If you would like to save copies of these audio tracks, right click on the download link below the player and use the save link option.

Learning deep breathing is the first step in learning relaxation skills. Being in pain can often lead us into unhelpful breathing habits. However, with a bit of practice changing how you breathe can make a real difference to how you feel. The first thing to do is to become more aware of how you tend to breathe.

Check your breathing right now!

  • Put one hand on your chest.
  • Put the other just below your ribcage resting on your tummy.
  • Just let your hands rest there for a few moments while you take a few slow deep breaths.
  • Notice which hand moves the most.

Your top hand moves the most: You are a ‘Chest Breather’. People who are tense and in pain often breathe using only the top part of their lungs and often tend to ‘hold’ the breath. This is not so good for relaxing and can be linked to muscle tension in the shoulders and neck and tightness in the chest.

Your bottom hand moves the most: You are a ‘Belly Breather’ or ‘Diaphragm Breather; This type of deep breathing is the best breathing pattern to give you pain and stress relief

In deep breathing, you are aiming to breathe right down into the bottom of your lungs. The big band of muscle that is underneath the lungs, called the diaphragm, then pushes down and this makes the belly expand.

Pain Service - Lungs

Deep breathing exercise – how to do it

  • Make yourself comfortable on the bed or in a chair. Loosen your shoulders and any tight clothing around your waist.

  • Take slow, gentle deep breaths down into the bottom of your lungs – as if you are blowing up a balloon in your belly.

    Pain Service - Breathing

  • Breathe slowly and don’t try to force it. You might find it helpful to count – breathe in for the count of 4 seconds and out for the count of 4 seconds. As you get the hang of it, try and slow it down even further. Find a pace that works for you.

  • Remember, your belly should be moving more than the top of your chest.

  • If you feel a bit dizzy or spacey it simply means you are breathing too fast and too heavily. Try breathing a bit more gently and slowly. Imagine that you are breathing out tension and tightness with each breath out.

  • Practice this at least 5 minutes every day.

Breathing technique: 1 minute, 2 seconds

Download ‘Breathing technique’


If you would like to save a copy of this audio track, right click on the download link below the player and use the save link option.

Deep breathing exercise – getting in the habit

It takes practice to get into the habit of deep breathing. To begin with it is best to practice at calmer and quieter times to give yourself the chance to get the hang of it.

When you have got the hang of the breathing exercise, you can use it to relax any time you get tense. With practice you will really feel yourself relaxing and letting go of stress, tension and pain. You might even sleep better.

Quickie relaxation exercises using breathing

  • One way of getting into the habit of deep breathing is to practice a few deep breaths whenever you do something familiar e.g. each time you go to the loo, have a drink or check your watch. Putting a reminder on your phone may help. If you can learn to ‘punctuate’ your day with short relaxations you will stop tension levels from building up as the day goes on.

  • Take your attention to the place that hurts. As you breathe in breathe towards this place. As you breathe out imagine breathing out from the place that hurts. This may help to ease your experience of pain.

  • Pain often makes you hold your breathe. Pay particular attention to your breathing when you are moving. Try and keep it coming from your belly in a slow and gentle rhythm.

The following recordings allow you to learn skills in deep relaxation. Do read the guidelines for relaxation before you listen to them. It is best to choose one recording that you like and practice it daily.

Do not listen to relaxation recordings whilst driving or operating machinery.
If the exercises cause an increase in your distress or worrying thoughts do not continue without consulting a health professional.

Tense and relax: 11 minutes, 45 seconds
An active relaxation technique contracting different muscles to learn the difference between tension and relaxation.

Download ‘Tense and relax’


Passive muscle relaxation: 12 minutes, 15 seconds
Working through the body using your mind and breathing to let go of tension in the muscles.

Download ‘Passive muscle relaxation’


Autogenic relaxation: 17 minutes, 21 seconds
A relaxation technique using the power of your mind to build feelings of warmth, heaviness and relaxation in the body.

Download ‘Autogenic relaxation’


Special place: 10 minutes, 29 seconds
Use your imagination to relax parts of your body. Then imagine yourself into a special place image for deeper relaxation.

Download ‘Special place’


Visualisation: 16 minutes, 17 seconds
Using images in your mind to help relaxation. Be taken through imagining a rich sensory journey to help you to relax.

Download ‘Visualisation’


If you would like to save copies of these audio tracks, right click on the download link below the player and use the save link option.

Mindfulness and CFS/ME

Mindfulness is based on some of the techniques used by Buddhist practitioners and formalised into a stress reduction course to be used with people who have wide range of health difficulties including chronic pain, chronic fatigue, psoriasis, anxiety and depression. Specific research into the use of Mindfulness with CFS/ME has found improvements in fatigue levels, mood, physical functioning and quality of life. Mindfulness works best when people are open and interested in trying the approach and can practice the techniques regularly on their own.

There are strategies that people with CFS/ME seem to find helpful:

  • quality or restorative rest
  • reducing the energy requirements of activities
  • prioritising activities
  • finding time for enjoyable/meaningful activities
  • finding a baseline and grading and gradually increasing activities

Click on the heading below to listen to each meditation.

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