Today. I'm going to discuss five ways to find more calm and more relaxation and to ease anxiety using your breath.
The breath is the master controller when it comes to soothing anxiety and calming the nervous system, we just need to know how.
Hack 1: Slow Down Your Breathing,
The tell tale sign that somebody is in a stress response or they're in mild hyperventilation syndrome, Is that they're they're breathing extremely quickly. Their respiratory rate is much higher than it needs to be, and as a result, they're blowing off too much carbon dioxide which in turn is decreasing the oxygen efficiency of the blood going to the cells.
In actuality, what we want to be doing is breathing more in alignment with our unique metabolic rate and therefore we want to be slowing down the breath.
A good goal to work. towards is about 6 seconds per minute which works out to about five to six seconds per inhale and per exhale. This is actually something called Resonant Frequency or Coherence Breathing, which has a whole cascade of amazing science backed proven benefits for your physiology
- Heart, mind & body coherence/ synergy/ harmony
- Improved Heart Rate Variability (ability to handle stress)
- Balanced autonomic nervous system
- Improved cognitive function
- Connection to the hearts intuition & wisdom
As such, it good to just work this into your daily habitual breathing. By practicing this flowing, rhythmic method consistently and regularly this state can become much easier to achieve and can actually become our unconscious habitual breathing pattern, this is what most martial artists work towards.
In fact Lao Tzu the writer of the Tao Te Ching, which is known as one of the wisest books ever written once it said:
" The perfect man breathes as if he is not breathing at all"
To recap, many people are over breathing and if you're somebody who's feeling stressed and anxious the likelihood is that you're actually going to be breathing predominantly in the upper chest very quickly. So we want to be slowing the breath right down relaxing the body and finding calm settling into the body by slowing the breath down.
This is exactly how we breathe when we're very deeply relaxed. when we're in deep sleep and when we're in deep meditation, the breath can flow very very very very smoothly.
So we really want to slow the breath down and ultimately the reason for this is so we breathe more in alignment with our actual metabolic rate and we increase our oxygen efficiency when we slow down the breath.
I know it's not what you would into it that actually by breathing less. We increase our oxygen efficiency, but this is how it works.
The other thing when we breathe slowly is that we slow down our heart rate. You can imagine your heart as being similar to a car. And the number of beats it takes being analogous to the number of miles the car drives. The more miles the car drives, the quicker the car will become a right off. Similarly, the more beats your heart takes per minute, the more energy it exudes and the quicker the heart will fail.
And if you look at the animals that actually live the longest, they're the ones with the lowest heart rate and the lowest respiratory rate
So by slowing down your breathing, you slow down your heart rate, therefore elongating your life. This is the basis of pranayama extension of life force, extension of life. So slow down to live more.
Hack 2: Breath Diaphragmatically
The second suggestion that I have for you is actually to breathe like a baby breathes.
If you watch how a baby breathes it will be breathing with its belly. It will be breathing diaphragmatically. Expansive n 360 degrees, all directions.
If you don't know what your diaphragm is, there is a sheet of muscle that sits just below the floating ribs and what this does is it create a vacuum inside your chest cavity drawing air into the body.
So when we inhale our diaphragm pulls down this huge sheet of muscle pulling down and drawing the air into the lungs.This is your primary breathing muscle.
The problem lies with the fact that most people absolutely aren't using this muscle at all and they're breathing very shallow in the chest.
What this is doing is its directly stimulating a stress response in the body because the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) has more nerves situated in the upper lobes of the lungs. So therefore by breathing in this way, we're actually stimulating that sympathetic response.
If you look at how somebody's breathing when they're out of breath when they've been activated, they'll be breathing in a largely using the upper chest. Sometimes people use the shoulders and the neck.
So the invitation is actually to not use your shoulders or use your neck and to instead use your primary breathing muscle, which is your diaphragm.
On average, we breathe around 25,000 times every day which adds up to about half a billion times in average lifespan. So if you're one of these people that has breathing like this, those shoulder and neck muscles are going to get tired a lot quicker.
So what we want to be doing is using the diaphragm to breathe as opposed to using more the upper chest and the shoulders and the neck, so you want to invite the breath to draw down deep.
Into the lower belly as if you're breathing down through the floor breathing in literally down through the base of your spine filling up from the from the base creating this grounded space within and really expanding in 360 degrees as if it's filling up the side body filling up the back really using this this deep belly breath.
One of the ways that you can do this, if you're not used to this it's going to feel a bit weird at first because you're not used to it. You haven't breathed like this probably since she was about four or 5 years old.
So what you want to be doing is if visualising a balloon in your belly button literally in the centre of your being, expanding in all directions as you inhale.
You might be someone who's belly actually goes in as they inhale.
This is called paradoxical or reverse breathing.
It's largely because of some kind of obstruction where you can't breathe through the nose or you've got some type of sleep apnea or something like this.
My invitation for you is to just practice.
It's going to take a little bit of time to get used to it. Try placing your hands on your lower abdominal walls and visualising this balloon expanding into your hands, this will help rekindle your awareness to this part of your body and this motion.
It may take some time to cultivate it but I've seen people change very quickly and I know that you can too.
When we breathe diaphragmatic lie like this, it sends signals to our body that we are safe and that we can relax.
Actually, the lower lobes of the lungs have more nerves associated with the parasympathetic (rest and digest/ relaxation response) part of the Autonomic Nervous System. So by breathing lower in the lungs using the diaphragm, we send signals and we activate this part of the nervous system.
Hack 3: Breathe Through Your Nose
One of the most underrated organs is the nose. The very thing evolved over millions of years for us to breathe through, yet many people aren't at all.
If you're a mouth-breather, the time has come for change, for you to begin to breathe with your nose.
There is so many reasons why you should be breathing through your nose.
1. It warms the air, readying them for the lungs,
2. It disinfects the air (anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-virus)
3. It releases nitrous oxide, which is a vasodilator.So if you're someone with high blood pressure, especially, this will reduce hypertension and will reduce your blood pressure.
Another reason to breathe through the nose is actually it creates more resistance. If you're breathing through the mouth, it's a lot quicker.
Breathing through the nose will slow down the air flow which will mean that you will breathe less and you breathe more in alignment with your metabolic rate.
Hack 4: Extend Your Exhalation
My fourth suggestion for you is actually to extend your out-breath such that it is much longer than your in-breath.
This is the classic way that I kind of ground myself and really settle in and relax my whole being is actually by just taking a very slow gentle long breath that kind of grounds me and softens me.
What I do is I really relax and let go, I I observe rather than doing anything I just watch the movement of the breath fall out of my lungs as I exhale and it allows me to really relax and ground and soften.
So you can do this through the nose through the mouth, but generally you really want to extend that out breath such that it is much longer than the in-breath, you can practice with four seconds in eight seconds out and then you can take it even further four seconds in 12 seconds out. Just really extend that out breath.
This is one of the best ways to stimulate the Vagus Nerve. This is the tenth cranial nerve that runs from the base of the skull through the face down through almost every single organ down to the base of the spine. It is the highway of the parasympathetic response.
This is why when we put cold water on our face, it calms us down or when we humm it calms us down and relaxes us because it's stimulating the vagus nerve.
The way I look at the cycel of breath, is that the it's the yin and yang it's the duality of life.
Everything is a duality. Everything.
There is masculine this feminine. There's hot there's cold, there is light then there is dark, there is Inhale & Exhale.
So the Inhale is very activating. When we inhale more, we activate the sympathetic response and you it energizes us very quickly.
When we exhale more it does the opposite it calms us. It relaxes us. So focus on that out breath extend it.
Make sure you're exhaling fully. So many people just don't exhale fully you and that's one of the reasons why people are unable to catch a full breath is because they're not fully clearing out the lungs and when you do this, it's making space for new fresh oxygen for new fresh life force, but again, it's going to allow you to fully extend and extend that out breath and exhale fully to slow down and stimulate the parasympathetic response.
Hack 5: Practice with Breath Holds/ Breath Retention
My final suggestion for you is that you practice some breath holds and this is when we actually inhale and we hold the breath or we exhale and we hold the breath for an extended period of time.
There is many reasons for doing this.
My feeling towards this is that what it's doing is it's cutting off the flow of life. It's cutting off the flow of energy.
Now, this is especially good if you need to break your state, so if you're if you're feeling especially anxious or your monkey mind is racing a breath hold sequence can really just stop it in its tracks and then if you take a very long slow gentle exhale again, it can very calmly ground you into the body.
There's other reasons for practicing with breath holds, like training your chemoreceptors so your carbon dioxide tolerance increases which increases the o2 efficiency in the body.
There exists a school tailored specifically for this goal called Buteyko or the Buteyko Method.
I would suggest however starting with the 4-7-8 technique, made famous by Dr Andrew Weil, a very famous integrative medicine doctor.
Basically we inhale for 4 seconds through the nose, we hold for 7 seconds and then we exhale with a sound or an open mouth for 8 seconds.
We do that for 4 rounds.
If you need to sleep or if you need to relax, this is an especially good technique.
Please be careful practicing with breath holds if you're pregnant or if you've got heart problems,