Consider Scenario I: Jessica was late again. Willing the traffic to speed up had no result except to make her feel more tense and helpless. She sat in the motionless car, her mind going a hundred miles an hour, ruminating about everything she had to do: shopping, cleaning, laundry, pick up the kids, visit the nursing home, call the dentist, deadlines at work, etc. Her breath came out in shallow, rapid gasps — and an urge to scream, cry or beat the dashboard rose up out of her chest.
Stress! A magazine article popped into her mind detailing how 90 percent of all illnesses are stress related. “It’s hopeless. I might as well book my hospital room now,” Jessica bemoaned.
Consider Scenario II: Jessica was late again. Accepting the reality of the traffic jam caused her to take a deep breath and let out a long sigh. She sat in the motionless car with her mind focused on slowing her breathing, and pacifying her racing mind’s obsession with its “to do” list by repeating the mantra “peace.” As her deepening breath moved low into her belly, the anxiety continued to dissolve.
Equanimity! The knowledge that she had the ability to counteract the negative effects of stress was ever present in her mind. “No matter what the circumstances may be, I have it in my power to stay calm and peaceful, maintaining and even enhancing my well-being,” Jessica rejoiced.
Is it really possible…that experiences similar to Scenario I could metamorphose so easily into Scenario II? Can we so quickly turn an out of hand, stressful situation into one of calm and control? The answer is unequivocally: Yes! The simple but powerful act of changing the way we breathe regulates our physical bodies and our emotional and mental states.
The key is in knowing how to change our breath before anxiety arises in order to avoid the stress reaction commonly known as the “flight or fight” response. When this response occurs, one’s breathing becomes very shallow in the upper chest and the body’s chemistry changes, producing tension throughout.
Fortunately, since the respiratory system is both involuntary and voluntary, by consciously engaging the diaphragm to allow the belly to expand on the inhalation, the parasympathetic nervous system begins triggering a relaxation response. It is physiologically impossible to be in a state of panic if one is breathing deeply in the belly. Simply and powerfully, stress-free living can be a belly breath away.
To practice diaphragmatic, belly breathing, lie comfortably on your back, with both hands on your belly, eyes closed and focusing inwards on feeling the physical movement of your breath. Begin first by exhaling while contracting the belly towards the spine. The inhalation will result in a natural extension outwards of the belly. By first allowing, and then gently increasing this expansion the diaphragm presses downwards, aiding in the movements. This area of the body is known as the “hara,” a Japanese word that means “seat of life force.” Besides producing a soothing action, breathing in the hara accesses a source of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual stamina.
Everyone can learn to master their breath and make it their best friend in optimizing health and reducing stress.
Experience fun intro breathing techniques at the BreathLogic Benefit Concert at 3 p.m. Sunday April 17. The event, featuring folksinger Sara Thomsen and the Caritas Vocal Ensemble, will take place at Church of the Sacred Heart in Robbinsdale, MN. Donation is $20. For more information, visit www.BreathLogic.org.