Ever been told to just take a deep breath? Maybe right before you freaked out over that missed deadline or when your coworker ate the last piece of banana bread before you got your hands on it? We instinctively know that deep breaths calm us down in the midst of a breakdown, but why don’t we consciously practice breathwork to prevent the freak outs?
In our Western society, we’re constantly in “do, do, do” mode rather than just “be” mode. Learning how to do less and just breathing in the moment as often as possible is the antidote to the anxiety crisis we’re seeing today.
By taking the moments with yourself to stop, “do nothing,” slow down, and breath, you are setting yourself up to be more intentional and effective in accomplishing the hundreds of tasks on your to do list.
Given that now 1 in 4 women are on anti-anxiety medication, there should be active measures at preventing this anxiety epidemic vs. treating it. That’s a HUGE number!
Regular breathwork practices can do just that and we feel should be mandatory at every office, hospital, school classroom, boardroom and the like.
Breathwork is a necessity today.
Breathwork isn’t just some new agey practice that’s done in a sweaty yoga class. Stanford research had Veterans suffering from PTSD perform regular breathwork and over time, it become evident that this practice was more effective at treating their PTSD than the medication they were prescribed!
Whoa. And after some time, they no longer had to come back. That is some POWERFUL research right there.
So can something we unconsciously do all day be the answer to managing stress, anxiety and improving overall health by simply being conscious of it? You bet your sweet booty, it can.
Manipulating your breath can instantly change your state. You are in complete control of the state that you are in and breathwork can be the quickest way to manage it. Best of all, it’s free!
It may sound strange, but most people don’t really know how to breathe properly. Especially when we are stressed out! If you look at babies, they know what to do. They breathe from their bellies, expanding on the inhale and contracting on the exhale.
This is called diaphragmatic breathing and over time, we forget to breath like this and instead use our chest and shoulders, which causes short shallow breaths. This type of breathing only increases our stress and anxiety because it keeps us in our sympathetic nervous system aka our “fight or flight” mode. When we’re in this mode, our stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are flying high, and we don’t want that shiz.
Conversely, when we practice deep belly breathing (let that belly go, lady), this activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which is our rest, repair and relax mode.
By filling up your belly, it allows your diaphragm to contract and move down, allowing space for your lungs to fill. So sucking in that tummy in fear that you may reveal some lovely lady lumps is actually causing you more stress!
Breathing diaphragmatically turns up your parasympathetic nervous system by activating your vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body. When this system is active, you relax, your heart rate drops, your blood pressure lowers, and you're put into a calmer state. Ahhh….that zen life.
If you suffer from anxiety or stress, regular breathwork is essential. If you are a human being on this planet, regular breathwork is essential. Learning to breathe properly is foundational if you wish to live a productive, healthy and happy life.
So how do we do it? Try this exercise that will guide you in how to breathe from the belly and perform a simple 4 count box breath.
TRY THIS BOX BREATH:
- Get in a comfortable position. You can either lay down or sit up tall in your chair. If you are sitting, relax the shoulders and let them fall.
- Close your eyes (unless you’re driving when you practice this). If you wish to keep them open, that is totally fine too. You may find you are better able to relax if they are closed because you can better focus on the breath.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
- To begin, inhale and feel like you are filling your stomach with breath, causing the belly to expand. This might feel strange and unnatural at first.
- Next, take in more air and allow for the lungs to fill up after the belly.
- Now that you know what that should feel like, inhale through the nose for the count of 4.
- Hold at the top for the count of 4.
- Exhale for the count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 4 at the bottom.
- Repeat the cycle 4 times.
- Return to natural breath and compare your state now vs. before you started the practice.
This is a great way to nail down the practice. But remember, you can do this anywhere, anytime, without putting your hands on your chest and belly and without anyone noticing that you are doing it.
Keep in mind it might take time to relearn how to breathe. Like anything, the more you practice the easier it will get.
Pro Tip: Set a reminder on your phone to go off every two hours to remind you to take a few deep breaths or try a cycle of breathwork. By practicing regularly, you will be able to proactively prevent stress from getting out of control.