For many of us these last days of the year are incredibly busy and hectic, draining our energy and skyrocketing stress levels. Stress has such a negative impact on our health and wellbeing that taking the time to breathe and relax is key to good health. Think of it as escaping the pollution and traffic of central Manhattan to find a quiet area in Central Park. In this blog I would like to encourage you to take a few minutes a day to simply breathe and centre yourself, creating a peaceful haven in the midst of activity. It will help you stay energised and avoid the exhaustion and disappointments that may accompany this time of the year.
Why breathing freely can be transformative
Stress, worries and negative emotions cause fast and shallow breathing. It is a kind of breathing where the diaphragm, our main respiratory muscle, moves less freely while smaller respiratory muscles have to work harder and hence use more energy to move the top of the lungs. The deeper areas in the lungs, where most blood is waiting to bring oxygen to the cells, receive less oxygen. This restricted breathing has a waterfall effect on our body and can lead to increased heart rate, impaired digestion, muscle tensions, back pain, stress, anxiety and loss of energy.
When the diaphragm is allowed to move freely, it can almost be described as an inner healer, one that massages the abdominal organs and the heart, one that relaxes the lower back, one that allows cells to be more oxygenated, one that soothes the nervous system. A free diaphragm can reduce all sorts of tensions and recharge your energy. It enables the breath to be a powerful life force.
One of the hardest commands to follow is “relax!” It is one that yoga teachers tend not to give in a yoga class because it would have the opposite effect: we usually get more stressed when we are trying hard to relax. We cannot simply tell the diaphragm to be relaxed. But our mind can help us in a different way: the only thing it needs to do – and this may not be so easy – is to pay attention to the breathing. The relaxation response can be switched on in stressful situations when our attention simply focuses on the breath without controlling or judging it. Impartial attention can help us restore free abdominal breathing and finally relax…
How to breathe and relax
–Sit down in a comfortable position, with both sitting bones equally touching the surface on which you sit. Feel the crown of the head gently extending upwards. Allow the front and back of the body to be equally long and broad. This means neither rounding the spine backward nor sticking the chest forward.
-Breathe out 5 times with a blowing exhalation. This extends the exhalation naturally and has a calming effect, the best way to “let go off steam.”
-Breathing normally, notice how cool air enters the nostrils and how it feels warmer when you breathe out. Follow these sensations for a minute or two.
-Place your hands on your abdomen and observe the movement underneath your hands: inhaling causes the abdomen to rise, exhaling makes it go down again. The more the chest can stay quiet, the more your diaphragm is doing the work.
-Without interfering or trying to change anything, simply follow the natural rhythm of your abdominal breathing for at least 5 minutes. Don’t worry if you suddenly realise that your mind has wandered. This is normal and you can simply re-focus your attention. Think of every observed breath as a little bit more energy restored.
You can connect with this simple breath awareness to relax and step away from the buzz, but in the long run it will also increase your ability to stay aware and sensitive in the middle of action.
Best wishes for the festive season and a happy and healthy 2018!