Ask your stressed out friends how they deal with feeling overwhelmed and they’ll likely list off the usual suspects: Sleep. Caffeine. Sugar. Alcohol. Exercise. Yoga. Some of these are clearly healthier options than others, but even the easy fixes take time—something that a lot of people who are stressed out tend to have in short supply. But there is a quick fix for the times when you have too much stress and too little energy: The simplest and most effective tool for instant energy, banishing stress, and ridding toxins from the body is breath!
That’s right. Breathing—the thing we do all day and night long without thinking about it—is responsible for a whole lot more than fuel our body with oxygen. The rate at which we breathe actually helps regulate our heart rate which in turn controls a bunch of other physical aspects. Breathe slow and fast and our body and brain will automatically shift to that fight or flight mode, the one that comes with stress and sends your blood pressure and shoulder tension soaring. Focus on slower, longer, and deeper breaths and you’ll help calm your body and mind, fighting stress in a matter of seconds while also filling your body with energizing oxygen, the lifeblood of a creativity, productivity, focus, and fire for whatever our life demands.
So how can you breathe better?
Improve Your Posture: When your spine is straight, your shoulders are relaxed, and your heart is forward you can inhale into your lungs without the air needing to make any jogs or turns along the way. This allows your body to utilize all the intended space for absorbing oxygen and sending it to cells throughout the body. Focus on “belly breathing”—letting the stomach expand as we take air in. Oftentimes, particularly when we slouch, we breathe only into the shoulders and chest, restricting our oxygen flow and energy levels. By breathing all the way through our lower torso, we not only get deeper breaths, but make ourselves more grounded and stable by lowering our center of gravity.
Slow Down: If life is getting crazy, step back and take at least 3 deep breaths. Make the exhales at least twice as long as the inhales (i.e. inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds, etc). Benefits of long deep breathing include releasing toxins, invigorating the mind and body, relieving pain, strengthening muscles, boosting the immune system, and improving digestion, to name a few!
Practice: It’s effective to sit up straight and breathe deeply during times of stress, but why save all of the benefits for the times you’re already wandering off toward the deep end. By aiming to live and breathe this way more often than not it’ll become second nature, meaning you’ll have all the oxygen you need all the time and possibly even helping you to not only combat stress but to keep it from cropping up at all!
April 23rd, 2014