Breath plays a really huge role in our ability to manage stress.
The way we breathe can affect our emotions and mental states, as well as determine how we physically respond to stress. In fact breathing with awareness is at the core of several Eastern mind-body practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi and meditative techniques, so the breath plays a really huge role in our ability to manage stress.
Now the main role of breathing is to absorb oxygen and expel carbon dioxide through the movement of the lungs. When we are under stress, our breathing pattern changes: we take smaller, more shallow breaths, often from our upper body, and as a result of this style of breathing the balance of gases and pH in the body gets disrupted. This kind of shallow over-breathing or hyperventilation can prolong our feelings of anxiety and make the physical symptoms of stress even worse, and as a result we might experience tightness in our chest, fatigue, headaches, insomnia and feelings of panic, light headedness or muscular aches and stiffness.
Slow and even breathing can literally short circuit the stress response in less than a minute!
It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and it costs nothing.
So how do we do this? Well the first thing we want to do is shift from upper chest breathing to abdominal breathing. And the next thing you need is to sit in a comfortable and relaxed space. We’re going to start with a very simple exercise. Please don’t do this while driving or working. Make sure you have some quiet time to do this:
• Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
• Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
• Exhale through your mouth, like a deep sigh, and push out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. Don’t stop exhaling until all the air has escaped your lungs. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
• Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.
So whenever you feel tired or stressed or overwhelmed just remember that you have this special gift available to you. You just need a few minutes and a space to yourself. You can step into a park or go to the restroom and carry out these breathing exercises and feel better instantly.
“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.”
Puja Madan is a women’s health coach, writer and speaker. She has received her training from the world-renowned Institute for Integrative Nutrition, New York. Puja offers powerful health and wellness programs for young women, in person or online, empowering them through healthier food and lifestyle choices. Puja practises Yoga and meditation daily and believes that all inner growth starts with a love affair with oneself! For more information visit www.innerscientist.com or www.facebook.com/innerscientist