Ever find yourself so stressed out in the heat of the moment and you’re not quite sure what to do to calm down? Well, just breathe. Maybe you’ve heard that before and have thought to yourself, “I AM breathing!!” But maybe not in a way that promotes relaxation and ease in the body.
Controlled breathing is a great way to tame the stress response. That’s because we can actually control our heart rate with our respiratory rate. When we breathe naturally, our heart beats change slightly with every breath in and out. This is called Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia. When we inhale, our heart rate speeds up just a bit, and when we exhale it slows down slightly.
So why’s this important? Well, if you are looking for a quick way to calm down in a stressful situation, you can simply take conscious control of your breathing. This will slow your heart rate down, which will calm the body. All you have to do is exhale about twice as long as you inhale, and after a few breaths you will begin to relax.
Deep breathing calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight or flight mechanism in the body, and it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is known as the rest and digest mechanism. Here’s a simple breathing technique that can be practiced any time of the day and in any environment:
Place your hand on your chest over your heart or on the inside part of your wrist where you can feel your heartbeat (your radial pulse). Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, and exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat this 4 times, or as many times as you need until you feel yourself beginning to relax and your heart rate slows down.
It may be helpful to close your eyes and sit down as this will aid in the relaxation. Use this breathing technique throughout the day when you are feeling stressed and need to generate ease within the body.
Additional Breathing Techniques
Close your right nostril, inhale through the left nostril, and hold your breath for three seconds. Then close your left nostril, exhale through the right one, and hold your breath for three seconds. Repeat, alternating nostrils, for a few minutes until you feel calm and relaxed.
Lie down, stretch out, put your hands on your abdomen, and concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth for a few minutes. Or breathe in and out of your nose, if you prefer. Feel your abdomen expand and contract. Visualize your lungs full of air after each inhalation and completely empty after each exhalation. Don’t worry about how long you inhale or exhale; let it occur naturally.
Deep breathing exercises can also enhance cognitive function, as described in this study. Many successful businessmen/women, celebrities, and coaches, such as Tony Robbins, perform a breathing ritual every morning as one of the ways to prime their minds for the day. Yoga practitioners and monks have used breathing practices for centuries to relax their minds and control their emotions.
A great way to incorporate breathing techniques into your daily life is to start and end your day with just a few minutes. Taking control of your breathing facilitates the ability to take control of your thoughts, emotions and physical state throughout the day. It also helps to calm the body in times of stress.
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