Meditation and Mindfulness are recommended as often as exercise for reducing stress and anxiety. As often as it’s recommended, a woman says to herself, “Oh that’s not for me. It’s impossible for me to quiet my mind.” If you are interested in an alternative, read on. First step: Decide you want to give this a go. Second step: Ditch the word “Impossible.” Third Step: Read below.
xoxo, Jenni Rai
The very nature of our existence depends on our breathing. The breath is the first thing that marks our entry into this world, and the same breath marks our exit out of it. Since it’s a vital function that is mandatory for our existence, we can maximize its benefits by breathing consciously. Dr Alan Watkins, neuroscientist, has found through his research that the top three important factors of breathing to positively affect physiology are rhythmic breathing, smooth breathing and heart centered breathing.
Conscious breathing in a steady or rhythmic ratio positively affects our physiology and helps us to manage our stress response. Our physical response to stressful situations, whether they are externally or internally influenced activates our flight or fight nervous system and floods our bodies with stress hormones that make our heart rate, blood pressure and cognition erratic as well as influencing our respiration to take erratic shallow breaths. Since stress has also been shown to increase the perception of pain it is in our benefit to learn how to control our breath and thus our physiology.
The effects of a balanced physiology are the ability to feel more relaxed, steady and have improved cognition and the ability to concentrate. Each time we face challenges with a steady breath and mindfulness, we develop a stronger capacity to control our responses. A balanced state allows you the freedom to feel positive, be more productive, make good choices or be inspired!
To breath rhythmically means that the in-breath and out-breath occur repeatedly at the same intervals. So if we inhale, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, and then exhale, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, then inhale again, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, and then exhale again, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; this establishes rhythm. In this example the breath ratio is 4:6 seconds, but the ratio can vary as long as it’s comfortable for you to complete. Some examples are 3:3, 4:4, 4:5, 5:7 etc. It is also important to maintain this breath ratio for at least three minutes to allow for the body’s physiology to respond and benefit from the steady breath. There are helpful applications like Kardia and Breath Pacer that can help one to maintain the breath ratio with visual and audio cues.
At the same time as a rhythmic breath, a smooth breath is also important, meaning that the volume of the breath stays consistent as it moves in and out, like sipping liquid through a narrow straw as in using the yogic Ujjayi breath technique. The yogic Ujjayi breath is known as the oceanic breath for its sound in the body as well as its simultaneous effects on the body to relax and energize.
Start by breathing in and out through your nose. Feel the air pass to the back of your throat and as you breathe, gently constrict the muscles at the back of your throat. The air passing through the throat like this creates an ocean sound like the waves as they come out onto the shore and reverse back into the ocean. As the breath smoothly passes evenly from start to finish, you will feel the ocean within you. It is a beautiful experience. With a steady breath, feel yourself riding the wave of an ocean breath, tuning into the body and out of your mind to let your thoughts go, bringing balance to the body.
Heart Centered Breathing
Thirdly, the location of our attention during breath is also important. Breathing through the center of the chest, through the heart area regulates our physiology. The heart generates the most electrical power in our bodies more than any other organ and gives off a radiant state of well being when we focus our energy there. Think of the times that you have felt a positive sensation through the heart as in expressing love to a loved one and synchronize your breath with that feeling.
Practicing these three breathing techniques together throughout the day for three minutes at a time will develop a capacity and skill to control the stress response when there is a stimulus that activates it. The breath assists us in remaining present, making it possible to stay with intense sensations in the body. Each time we succeed in employing these techniques during stress or pain, this skill becomes stronger.
This Excerpt was taken from the Chapter on Conscious Breath and Breathing Techniques in the upcoming book, Center Me, by Dr Krista Augius
Have you used mindful breathing or meditation to help manage anxiety? We’d love to hear what has or hasn’t worked for you. Comment below, or better yet, join our Private Facebook Group. We’d love to have you in #OurTribe!