We tend to underestimate the power of our breath in helping us deal with stressful events. But, used properly, our breathing can transform our experience and help us navigate through some of life’s biggest challenges. We underestimate our breathing because we do it all the time. However, at some level, most of us are aware that taking a few deep breaths when we are afraid or angry can be helpful.
When we get stressed our bodies get revved up by a cascade of chemical and physical reactions. Our hearts race, blood sugar is pumped into our body, our breathing gets faster and more shallow, our blood pressure rises and our digestive system grinds to a halt. Now, out of all of these reactions, the only one that we can consciously control is our breathing.
Using our breath to put the brake on stress can work on a number of levels. Perhaps the simplest breathing technique is where you simply focus on your out-breath and try to slow it down. (We know that our heart rate slows when we breathe out and speeds up when we breathe in.) Just imagine you are gently blowing up a balloon, slowly and steadily without force. Really empty your lungs. Other methods, including the yoga exercise called the 4, 7, 8 technique, (look it up on Youtube), focus on taking a longer outbreath than an in-breath.
Becoming aware of your breathing also gives you presence of mind. This is important because often, in the heat of a challenging moment, we get lost in our minds and negative thoughts can spiral out of control. When we focus on our breathing our awareness returns to our body. We are present in the moment. We have the presence of mind to effectively deal with the challenge in front of us.
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