When stress is high, when a life transition begins to feel overwhelming, when frustration is at an all time high and your last nerve is about to snap, remember to BREATHE!
This week I have been keeping our breath at the forefront of our minds. How many admit to taking your breath for granted? How often do you tune into your breath?
When I was completing my undergraduate degree at Bastyr University one of my professors began each class with a meditation, often leading us in various forms of breath work. I enjoyed dropping out of my head and re-connecting with my body through my breath. It enabled me to calm the monkey-mind, become more present, and focus on the class.
Our breath can enable us to calm a stressed body, anxious thoughts, fear, anger, anxiety. It can induce tranquil, even ecstatic states, or depending on where we are drawing our
breath from (diaphragm or upper chest.) It can also induce a state of panic.
Our breath is a powerful tool we take with us wherever we go. It can also enable us to determine our emotional and mental states. Many of us are unaware of this simple, amazing, tool.
Think about it, what happens to your breath when you are startled? Many people stop breathing. Is your breath full or shallow when under stress? If you are commuting to and from work and are often stuck in traffic, how does it affect your breath? Are you a caregiver, a parent of young children, raising teenagers, under continual stress? Are there more things to do in your day than time to do them all in?
Are you rushing through your day, finally dropping into bed late at night, with little respite in between? How does this impact your breath, your body, your thoughts, your emotions?
If you experience panic attacks, what happens to your breath, your thoughts? Many begin to breathe shallowly, your thoughts start to race, causing you to breathe faster and more shallowly, thoughts race even faster, a negative feedback loop is created, and the result is spiraling into full panic. I have guided many people back to a state of calm with just their breath.
When experiencing a perceived threat, when under stress, or in a state of panic your body has activated the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), also known as the Fight-Flight-Freeze system. This system, in part, accelerates the heart rate, constricts blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and among other things releases adrenaline enabling one to fight or flee from danger (aka stress). Chronic stress keeps this system continually activated.
When we breathe with a different rhythm, it induces different emotional and mental states. A slow steady rhythm, breathing from our diaphragm and filling our lungs, activates our Parasympathetic Nervous System, (PNS). The PNS slows the heart rate, muscles relax, and intestinal and glandular activity increases.
Consider this, place a hand in the center of your upper chest, just below your collar bone, and begin to pant. Breathe quickly and shallowly from your upper chest for about 15 seconds. How does that make your body feel? Did you begin to feel anxious, panicky, thoughts begin to race, lungs starved for a full deep breath?
Now place a hand on your belly, and take slow deep breathes, in through your nose or mouth, fill your lungs, then exhale slowly. Feel your hand slowly move in and out with each breath, feel your chest rise and fall. How does that contrast with the shallow breathing? How does your body feel, your thoughts, your emotions. Do you feel calmer, more grounded, more present?
Practice this simple 4 Square Breathing technique when under stress.
Focus on your breath, or the feeling of your lungs rising and falling, or the sensations of your breath on your upper lip as you inhale and exhale.
If you are sitting or lying down your eyes can be opened or closed, whichever is more comfortable for you.
Inhale to the count of 4 at a comfortable pace.
Hold to the count of 4.
Exhale to the count of 4.
Hold to the count of 4.
Repeat 3-4 times.
Do this when standing in line at the grocery store, when stuck in traffic (keep eyes open please!) or when in the shower, pretty much anywhere, anytime. The more often you practice when in a calm state, the easier it is to enter this state when under stress.
Just like strengthening a muscle, the more you practice the easier and stronger it becomes.
Liisa Gavlick, MA –Full Circle Wellness
© 2016 All Rights Reserved