Though many of us give little thought to our breath throughout the day, the act of breathing is indeed profound. Breath links us to the deepest parts of ourselves, and is the foundation of our life. As we leave the comfort of our mother’s womb, the doctor’s slap on the back forces us to take our first gasp of breath – a single breath that has enough force to reverse our blood flow and start us down our path in the unknown, outside world.
One doesn’t have to stretch the imagination too far to see how our breathing affects us in daily life. If you think back to a time in which you were shocked, you may have found that you held your breath -- or maybe when anxious, your breath became shallow and rapid. If we are depressed we often sigh aloud, trying to release the oppressive energy within us. Breath is the seat of our emotion.
When we are under stress and our emotions run amok, it often creates the “fight or flight” response in the body, firing up our sympathetic nervous system. We produce adrenaline, our hormones go haywire – essentially we gear up for a fight. The problem is, many of us walk around in this state of anxiety and tension all day – without ever letting go of “the fight”. Long, deep breathing can shift us back into balance. A simple long, deep breath can do wonders – stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, or what is known as the “relaxation response” in the body. Learning how to control the breath is key in stress relief.
The next time you find yourself stressed or anxious, try one of these simple breathing techniques:
Left nostril breathing: Sit comfortably. Block off your right nostril with your thumb and breathe long and deep through your left nostril for 1-3 minutes. This helps to slow down the mind and body, and is also great for insomnia.
Anti-anxiety breathing: Sit comfortably or lie down on your back. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through a rounded mouth. Then inhale through a rounded mouth (as though you are sipping through a straw) and exhale through your nose. Continue for 3 minutes.
Try to become very mindful of your breath as you practice these two exercises. As you become more attuned to the subtleties in your breath, you can see how you can affect both your physical and mental well being with your breath.