Breathe your way to calm
When coaching clients I also teach them the simplest and most effective tension taming techniques. Deep breathing exercises are my favourite because they are versatile and can be used anywhere at any time. I use them to help my clients to physically and emotionally relax at the start of a 1:1 coaching session, in my own day to day life and in my mind body & soul group classes that I teach.
The way you breathe can affect your emotions, your mental state and determine how you physically respond to stress. With a little practice, deep breathing can become automatic so that you can feel calm and relaxed even during a stressful event.
You breathe over 20,000 times a day and often each inhale and exhale goes unnoticed. The way that you breathe has an effect on all the systems of your body. A shallow and quick breathing pattern can stimulate your 'flight or fight' system which makes your body feel anxious and stressed. The sympathetic nervous system, which is stimulated in times of stress and anxiety, controls your ‘fight or flight’ response, including raising your levels of cortisol and adrenaline that can be damaging when they persist for long periods. Learning to breathe deeply and consciously can reverse this feeling allowing your body and mind to feel relaxed and more present.
Try this now. Breathe in and out through your mouth.
Now take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and open the back of your throat to relax it. Did you notice how different those two breaths felt?
The deep breath with the open throat brings in at least twice as much oxygen as the other, and it dramatically expands your rib cage. This diaphragmatic breathing allows the air to go down into the lower lobes of the lungs where most of the air is and it stimulates the vagus nerve (the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system that runs through the diaphragm). So when you take a deep breath you are engaging your parasympathetic ‘rest and restore’ nervous system.
Deep breathing is the fastest medium by which these systems can communicate, flicking the switch from high alert ‘fight or flight’ to low ‘rest and restore’ in a matter of seconds. Experiencing a deep breath into the abdomen is not only relaxing; it's been scientifically proven to positively affect the heart, brain, digestive and immune system. Deep breathing alters your state of mind and helps your body to relax. Regularly engaging in one to two minutes of this breathing throughout the day will keep you calm and make you less anxious. This may take a little practice if you haven't done before, so keep practicing.
Try these deep breathing techniques
Breathe slowly so that your inhalation and exhalation are the same duration. Count 1-2-3-4 in your mind while inhaling and 1-2-3-4 while exhaling.
Add a pause, so inhale deeply for a count of three, hold the breath for a second or two and then exhale slowly for a count of three and hold for a second or two. Keep your breathing even and smooth.
This breathing exercise is excellent for calming both the nervous system and an overworked mind. This is a timed breath where the exhale is longer than the inhale. Begin with a count of four or five on the inhale and seven or eight on the exhale. Slowly work your way up to inhaling for a count of seven and exhaling to a count of eleven.
Alternate nostril breathing can also help to slow and deepen your breathing. Using your thumb and ring fingers to gently open and close the nostrils, breath in one nostril and out the other. Repeat for five cycles and then change nostrils.
Note to self: remember to breathe!
You can learn to effectively manage your physiological reaction to stress by teaching your body and mind to induce this relaxation response through deep breathing. Recognizing the need to breathe deeply is half the battle; actually doing it regularly throughout the day is how you control and alter your stress levels. While breathing alone may not resolve the stressful issue, it can empower you to healthfully adapt on mental, emotional and physical levels.
To help you to remember to regularly practice stress relief breathing throughout your day, set reminders on your mobile, or stick post-it notes up on your laptop, kettle and mirrors where you will easily see them. Or invest in functional jewellery that will discreetly vibrate against your wrist at set intervals. Visit www.meaningtopause.com for more information.
By taking a few moments in your day to really pay attention to the inhalation and exhalation that supports your life, you will feel calmer, healthier and happier. Small changes add up to big improvements and what better way to begin than breathing?
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