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Pain Control: Support for People with Cancer

  • Updated: 05/16/2014

Relaxation Exercises

How to Use Imagery

Imagery usually works best with your eyes closed. To begin, create an image in your mind. For example, you may want to think of a place or activity that made you happy in the past. Explore this place or activity. Notice how calm you feel.

If you have severe pain, you may imagine yourself as a person without pain. In your image, cut the wires that send pain signals from one part of your body to another. Or you may want to imagine a ball of healing energy. Others have found this exercise to be very helpful:

  • Close your eyes and breathe slowly. As you breathe in, say silently and slowly to yourself, "In, one, two," and as you breathe out, say "Out, one, two." Do this for a few minutes.

  • Imagine a ball of healing energy forming in your lungs or on your chest. Imagine it forming and taking shape.

  • When you're ready, imagine that the air you breathe in blows this ball of energy to the area where you feel pain. Once there, the ball heals and relaxes you. You may imagine that the ball gets bigger and bigger as it takes away more of your discomfort.

  • When you breathe out, imagine the air blowing the ball away from your body. As it goes, all your pain goes with it.

  • Repeat the last two steps each time you breathe in and out.

  • To end the imagery, count slowly to three, breathe in deeply, open your eyes, and say silently to yourself, "I feel alert and relaxed."

Breathing Exercises

You may relax either sitting up or lying down, preferably in a quiet place. Make sure you're comfortable. Don't cross your arms or legs because you could cut off circulation. If you're lying down, you may want to put a small pillow under your neck and knees.

Once you're comfortable and your eyes are closed, you could try any of the following relaxation methods:

Breathing and muscle tensing

  • Breathe in deeply.

  • At the same time, tense your muscles or group of muscles. For example, you can squeeze your eyes shut, frown, or clench your teeth. Or, you could make a fist, stiffen your arms and legs, or draw your legs and arms up into a ball and hold as tightly as you can.

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

  • Let go. Breathe out and let your body go limp.

Slow rhythmic breathing

  • Stare at an object or shut your eyes and think of a peaceful scene. Take a slow, deep breath.

  • As you breathe in, tense your muscles. As you breathe out, relax your muscles and feel the tension leaving.

  • Remain relaxed and begin breathing slowly and comfortably, taking about nine or 12 breaths a minute. To maintain a slow, even rhythm, you can silently say to yourself, "in, one, two; out, one, two."

  • If you ever feel out of breath, take a deep breath, and continue the slow breathing.

  • Each time you breathe out, feel yourself relaxing and going limp. Continue the slow, rhythmic breathing for up to 10 minutes, if you need it.

  • To end the session, count silently and slowly from one to three. Open your eyes. Say to yourself, "I feel alert and relaxed." Begin moving slowly.

If you decide to use slow rhythmic breathing as a way to relax and reduce pain, you may want to try these tips. They can add to the experience.

  • Listen to slow, familiar music through earphones.

  • Once you're breathing slowly, slowly relax different parts of your body, one after the other. Start with your feet and work up to your head.

  • Each time you breathe out, you can focus on a particular area of the body and feel it relaxing. Try to imagine the tension draining from the area.

  • Consider using relaxation recordings, such as CDs, DVDs, or podcasts. They often include each step on how to relax.