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Could you do with more energy, better focus and greater sense of calm? Just breathe.
Most of us live in a whir of busyness and our bodies and minds spend most of their time in the stress response.
This stress response is seated in the sympathetic nervous system and is commonly referred to as ‘fight, flight or freeze’. Characterised by, increased heart rate and more rapid respiration, stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through the bloodstream, preparing your body for imminent danger. Today, for the most part, this response is triggered by perceived or psychological threats. That may be a looming deadline, an overflowing inbox, running late to pick up the kids, or the countless expectations placed on us by ourselves, as well as others.
This is not particularly helpful, and when cortisol is elevated for too long or too frequently it disturbs all the hormonal systems of the body and can be incredibly damaging.
On the other side of the coin is our parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ response. When the parasympathetic system is dominant, breathing slows, heart rate drops, blood pressure lowers, and your body enters a state of calm where its innate healing mechanisms are able to do their good work.
It therefore follows, that this is where we want to be more of the time.
So, how do we get there?
It’s really very simple.
The fastest and most efficient way of soothing both the nervous system, and the overworked mind, is a timed breath where the exhale is longer than the inhale.
When your exhale is even a few counts longer than your inhale, The Vagus nerve that runs from the neck down through the diaphragm, sends a signal to your brain to chill, as it were.
It’s common for many of us to have acquired breathing patterns like shallow breathing and holding the breath which are very stressful and disruptive the body systems. Often, we are not even aware of it.
A helpful solution is to become conscious or the way you breathe and create new healthy breathing habits.
How does it benefit me?
We cannot talk our way out of uncomfortable feelings, however, we can breathe our way through them. The breath is our Link between body and mind and an anchor to the present moment, allowing us to soothe nervous system that is pinging of the charts, leaving us more relaxed, centered, focused and thinking clearer.
Breathing is our best way to deal with strong emotions, cravings and pain and more conscious breathing practices thorough out the day leads to better sleep at night.
Oh, and you get to stay alive. That’s the clincher.
Step by step instructions:
Begin wherever you are.
Lengthen and straighten your torso. Breathing through your nose, keep your breathing slow, even and smooth.
Inhale for a count of two
Exhale gently and evenly, for a count of four
Remember, when it comes to calming the nervous system, the most important thing is not the length of each breath, but rather that the exhale is longer than the inhale.
Incorporating conscious breathing into your day
Take it with you. From that dreaded queue at the bank, your desk, bed – or anywhere really. That’s the great thing about the breath. Wherever you are, there it goes.
SOS in times of stress:
Anytime you are feeling overwhelmed, angry or anxious. STOP. Take three calming breaths before continuing.
Take it with your coffee:
Try 10 slow and even breaths each time you grab a cup of tea or coffee.
Apps like the mindfulness bell can be helpful for this. Stop for a moment to become conscious of how you are breathing. Is your breathing relaxed and rhythmic? Are you breathing deeply through your nose? Is there room for improvement in this particular situation?
Make it a daily practice:
Set a timer for 5 minutes and practice the above exercise without worrying about the time.
Soothing the nervous system, calming the mind and reducing stress, life giving breath is the number one salve to keep with us at all times.
Next time you feel like it’s all too much.
About the Author: Carina Allen, The Zen Division
Dedicated to inspiring mindful living and promoting intentional self-care though; our range of Zen mats, Zententions; a private and free self-care group for women, face-to-face counselling sessions and workshops.
Could do with a better night’s sleep? Grab my FREE sleep recourse, ‘Seven Steps to a Zenful Night’.