Cultivating a good breathing practice can work wonders for your mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s free, it’s easy and all it takes is practice!
We’ve all heard of the fight or flight response; this is our emergency response system helping to protect us from danger. When the stress response is triggered our body becomes hyperalert, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into our blood, which helps us to fight off the danger or run from it. Our palms start to sweat, our heart starts to beat faster, we may experience tunnel vision and our muscles tense guarding us against the oncoming threat. This response is crucial to our survival, but it can also cause havoc when it comes to perceived or potential risks.
The stress response is our inbuilt alarm system, there to protect us from physical danger, like a near miss when crossing the road or meeting a stray tiger on the way to work! However, what’s interesting is the brain doesn’t recognize the difference between a perceived or potential risk and physical one. In other words when you’re thinking and worrying about what might happen in the future your body will go into fight or flight. That inner alarm will start bleeping! It doesn’t matter whether that threat is right there in front of you or potentially going to happen in the future, it is still a threat to your existence!
Living in survival mode is exhausting and can be the start of a downward spiral, affecting both your physical and mental health. Learning to deactivate your stress response is crucial, and is where the breathing comes in.
‘Human beings have the ability, by directing attention and awareness, to enter extraordinary states of calm and relaxation.’ Brantley 2007
When you breathe intentionally, you focus on the present moment, coming back to the simple sensations of the here and now. With this increased awareness of the present moment you are able to actively deactivate your stress response, giving your brain and body a chance to rest and rejuvenate.
- Sitting comfortably on a chair or a cushion, place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
- You can shut your eyes or keep them open whatever feels better for you.
- Start to lengthen your breath, breathing in for the count of 5 and out for the count of 7.
- Notice the gentle rise and fall of your belly and chest as you breath in and out.
- Allow your shoulders to release back and down as you exhale, softening the muscles in the face, eyes, cheeks, jaw.
- If your mind starts to wonder gently bring your attention back to the sensations of your breath.
- Continue for as long as feels good.
I find that making slight changes in my environment tells my brain it’s time to be still. This can include decluttering the room before you begin, changing the lighting, putting your phone on aeroplane mode, and lighting an incense stick or candle.
Things to Remember
Notice your triggers! If watching the news and being on social media 24/7 is making your shoulders tense, your stomach churn and your chewing your nails like there’s no tomorrow, then you’re probably experiencing the stress response. Give yourself a break, look at the news once or twice a day and not first thing in the morning or last thing at night!
A Life Worth Breathing by Max Storm -I have this as an audiobook it’s great and his voice is like honey!
Calming your Anxious Mind -how mindfulness and compassion can free you from anxiety, fear and panic by Jeffrey Brantley (quoted)
Mindful little yogis by Nicola Harvey – Full of fun games and exercises that help children to practice mindfulness.