We can survive a remarkable amount of time without food, and a handful of days without water. But without breath? Only a minute or two. Our breath seems to weave together our body and mind – if you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or afraid, you’re likely taking short, shallow breaths. If you’re relaxed (think of a long, summer afternoon spent in a hammock) then your breath is likely slow, deep, and healing.
Luckily, we can learn to control our breath. Practicing mindful breathing can help you to manage stress and anxiety before they begin harming your body.
This practice helps me get through those belly-knotting, heart pounding moments when the world seems to nip at your ankles.
1. Become mindful of your breath.
Awareness is the first step. Several times throughout the day, stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Are you inhaling fully, to the very bottom of your lungs? Or, are you breathing rapidly and shallowly.
2. Learn to breathe into your belly.
At the very top of our lungs, we have little stress receptors that, when triggered by quick, shallow breaths, tell our bodies that we’re being chased by a lion (even if we’re only paying the bills). A healthy breath is felt all the way in the belly. Deep, slow breath relaxes your body and calms your mind.
To practice this, place one hand on your stomach, and one on your heart. Inhale slowly through your nose, feeling your abdomen press into your fingers first, then your lower ribs, and finally your upper chest. Exhale, and notice the opposite action: upper chest, lower ribs, and then belly.
3. Practice a stress relieving 4, 7, 8 count breath.
This practice helps me get through those belly-knotting, heart pounding moments when the world seems to nip at your ankles. The act of doubling your exhalation to your inhalation forces your body to stop stressing, and start to relax. This, coupled with a few seconds of stillness in between the inhale and the exhale, makes for a simple meditation that you can weave into your day whenever feel you might need it.
To practice, close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose for a count of four. Hold that breath for seven seconds, and during that time, find a point of focus, like your heart, your forehead, or the tips of your toes. Bring all of your awareness there. Then, exhale through slightly parted lips for a count of eight. Repeat. Now enjoy that feeling of resting in the hammock on a warm day, wherever you are, no matter what you’re doing.