Breathing to Release Stress, Tension & Anxiety

“Breath is the first act of life, and the last. Our very lives depend on it” ~ Joseph Pilates

This quote is so true, so obvious and so simple, yet we take our breath for granted in so many many ways. It was something that was first brought to my attention in my very first job as the Saturday girl in a local “Clinic of Alternative Therapy”, back when the word Wellness was seen as far to airy-fairy and woo woo. I remember learning with my boss at the time, about the lungs and how their role was so much more vital in keeping our bodies alive, as opposed to simply enabling us to breathe. This knowledge was deepened further when I worked abroad and learned more about Eastern and Ayurvedic traditions in relation to Massage. We learned how to use our own breath in order to become more attuned to our client’s breath and what they needed from us in that treatment and in that moment

I remember hearing for the first time, the example of how babies breathe from their abdomen because they haven’t yet learnt of the daily stresses that we come to face as we get older. They breathe so beautifully filling up their entire lungs with Oxygen. As we get older our breathing becomes lazy and therefore much more shallow. Although, is it laziness or is it stress? Perhaps it’s both. I’ve been guiding people with their breath before every single treatment I’ve ever performed since I was 19 and finally now, in Yoga, I get to put it all together in a whole new way

I know from my own experiences of stress just how our breath can both positively and negatively impact our day. I’ve had those mornings where the first thing I do is check my work emails - BIG MISTAKE! - and yet we still do it even though we know we shouldn’t! We’re so “on call” now, constantly available thanks to these mini computers we carry as an extension of our hands. Checking an email, hearing the passive aggressiveness come across, seeing the deadline that might not get met, and suddenly, before our feet have even touched the floor, we're stressing out

In these instances, I know that for me, my breath becomes shallow, in my chest, it's even stopped on occasion because of the fact that I've held it in my "micro-stress moment", and it’s damaging. Before I’ve left the house, got in my car and arrived at work, I’m stressed and my breath is not available to help me because my mind is stuck in the sandpit of stress, tension and anxiety

When I rediscovered my love for Yoga I purposely gave myself time to breathe, I somehow found my way to my breath in each asana and I began to relearn that my breathe held the power to keep me grounded, calm and neutral. Thus began my daily practice of Yoga, Meditation and (before I knew it even had a name) Pranayama. I would consciously return to my breath in each asana when I noticed I might be holding it because I still brought my ego to the mat. I would purposely take a deep inhale and a long releasing exhale before starting my Meditation, and as I’ve grown more in my practice, I now begin and seal every personal Yoga flow with breathing of some sort. Even if it’s just 3 deep inhales and 3 releasing exhales, and it has made a whole world of difference to my life

18 month’s ago I bought a book called “How To Breathe” by Ashley Neese, a breath teacher in the USA. This book really changed my thought process on how powerful our breath is. Who knew there were upwards of 25 ways to breathe? From a basic, scientific stand point we know how important it is to breathe; We can go for 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water and 3 minutes without Oxygen. 25% of the Oxygen we breathe is used by the brain, 12% by the kidneys and just 7% by the heart. We breathe on average, 12 - 20 times per minute, which is equal to roughly 20, 000 cycles per 24 hours. Neuroscientific research shows that the nerve cells in the brain stem connect breathing to different states of mind, and by extending an exhalation by 1 or 2 counts longer than the inhalation, we can actually reduce our heart rate quite significantly. Doing this tells your brain that everything is calm and peaceful, but the breath does so much more as well

The breath is:

  • Naturally healing

  • Naturally detoxifying

  • Easy to take for granted

  • Works directly with the body, emotions and soul

  • Is the foundation for every mindful practice

  • We ALWAYS have access to it

  • It’s SIMPLE and EASY

  • Has a global effect on our entire body

The exhale is the perfect starting point when we choose to consciously explore our breath because it correlates to our “Rest and Digest” mode, which is restorative and nourishing for our mind, body and soul. It is also somewhat challenging because the vast majority of us have become accustomed to shallow breathing that lingers in the chest. Lengthening the exhalation allows us to hit the pause button for a moment and shift our focus away from external stressors; grounding us and reducing anxiety

The Autonomic Nervous System connects our brain to our body and that during high stress the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is activated. This is our “Fight or Flight” response and we know the signs; heart beat rises, adrenaline courses through the body, our breath becomes faster and more shallow. When we’re calm, and I mean truly calm, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is activated; the heart rate slows down, blood pressure is reduced, breathing slows down and becomes deeper. Since the lungs and heart are sending feedback to the brain to say “ Hey it’s okay, everything’s calm”, the brain supports this shift further because it has been convinced that everything is calm and peaceful, even when in reality, it might not be. Anxiety and stress simply cannot survive, let alone thrive, within our bodies if we choose to consciously slow down our breathing. Anxiety and stress require shallow and fast breathing, and so focusing on the exhale and making it longer centres us, grounds us and calms us

I’ve tried various different breathing techniques, especially over the last 18 months but the one I always come back to is simple rhythmic breathing where my exhale is longer than my inhale. I just love the effect is has on me. I feel it throughout my entire body, I change inside and I find that extremely powerful, which is why I wanted to share this technique with you in the hope that it will bring a sense of calm and grounding to your day as well

I would love to hear how you get on

Stay Well



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