Want a simple breathing technique to reduce stress?Jul 12, 2021
When you've been wound up or overwrought in the past, has anyone ever said to you "take a breath!"?
Most probably. Somewhere deep inside of our subconscious, we know that how we feel is tied to our breathing and we can change how we feel by changing the way we breathe.
As a yoga teacher for over 20 years I have seen the power of the breath to shift emotions work its magic, over and over again. I use it myself in times of anxiety...like going to the dentist or rushing to an appointment when I am late.
How does it work?
Well the breath, specifically the diaphragm breathing muscle is one of those rare points in the body which is accessed by both the subconscious AND the conscious mind.
So, most of the time you don't have to think about breathing - it's not as if it stops when you get distracted - its under the control of the habit mind and habit body. This frees you up to enjoy other things.
BUT, when you bring our conscious mind, specifically your will, to breathing you can direct it in a very intentional way.
Most of the time you breathe to match your need - slow and relaxed when sitting reading; faster and deeper when you are running for a bus. But since it's controlled by the habit mind, little bad habits, coping mechanisms and patterned responses to stressors can become hardwired and linked to specific thoughts, emotions and beliefs.
Let me give you an example: if you are going through a stressful encounter (like a near miss on the motorway or a sudden shock) you'll most likely breathe in and hold your breath. Not consciously - this is a patterned response to stress and it serves a useful purpose.
Our biology hasn't evolved as much as our lifestyle and 10,000 years ago, if you came face to face with a lion you would hold your breath and stay very still, hoping the lion (with poor eyesight) wouldn't see you and would go after an antelope instead. This "Freeze" response is a vital self-protection mechanism, just like its better known siblings - fight and flight.
So these days, we don't often bump into lions. Instead we have a mortgage to pay, an unpleasant boss to work with, children sitting A-levels, elderly parents to worry about and so on....modern day stressors being navigated by an ancient nervous system.
We encounter stress and respond with breath holding, shallow breathing, tummy tensing, using the wrong muscles to breath (such as muscles around the shoulders instead of the diaphragm) and we emphasise inhalation more than exhalation....exhales make noise and alert the lion...so we avoid them.
Watch your breath for a moment.
How long is the count on your inhale? and your exhale?
Do you hold your breath in?
If your exhale is shorter, try to lengthen it by just a little bit - just a count of 1 - going too quickly adds more stress and will make the breath worse - so go slowly.
If you can make the inhale and exhale the same, see if you can stay empty for a moment longer before breathing in again. This is a super way to switch your nervous system from stress, hyper-vigilance and unhelpful breathing patterns to relaxation and release, something which should happen after ever blip of stress.
We really cannot afford to ignore our habitual stress responses anymore - they may well be familiar and maybe they have been with us a long time but like any habit, it can be changed. How? By bringing our conscious awareness more often to our breathing.
Cultivating the habit of a daily breath-work practice helps to unravel old coping mechanisms which no longer serve us, so that when we find ourselves in a stressful situation they no longer kick in automatically. Our new way of breathing comes to our aid instead. No more breath holding or excessive inhales means more relaxation and calm in the face of challenge and less damage to the rest of the body.
Every system in the body is negatively impacted by an un-regulated stress response - particularly your digestive, hormonal and immune systems.
Daily stress-reducing routines are a major part of the way I help women, like me, heal their autoimmune diseases naturally.
Download the FREE AUDIO to guide you through this breathing method - I call it Pyramid Breathing. Enjoy!
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