Stress often feels huge and overwhelming, and no wonder. It is the mighty work of our minds spinning out of control. But its remedy is light as a feather. Stress can be managed quickly with a few calm breaths.
Calm breathing (often called “diaphragmatic breathing” or "belly breathing") is the number one tool endorsed by Navy SEALS as a way to quiet the mind when things feel out of control. And the SEALS are in good company. Babies naturally breathe this way, as do singers and yoga practitioners. For more on how the SEALS use breathing as an essential part of their practice, check out Mark Divine's book The Way of the SEAL.
Why is calm breathing so important? When we get stressed, our breath gets shorter, faster and shallower. Eventually, we may hyperventilate. This kind of breathing can heighten anxiety and even cause you to pass out. And it's terrible for your health.
Calm breathing creates an immediate restfulness for your body and mind. This is the beauty of calm breathing:
- You can do it in any situation.
- Nobody needs to know you're doing it.
- The effect can be immediate.
Practice Makes Perfect
As with anything, it's good to practice calm breathing when you are NOT stressed so that it will come naturally when you need it. We advise making this a part of your daily habits, in the morning when you first awaken and/or in the evening when you're getting ready to sleep - and anytime in between.
Dr. Belisa Vranich, an expert on breath work, points out that in addition to helping manage stress and anxiety, healthy breathing can improve lower back health, reduce acid reflux, and promote a healthy gut. According to Dr. Vranich, "Your body listens to the way you breathe and changes immediately."
For a deeper dive and a handful of excellent breathing exercises to try in your daily practice, check out Dr. Vranich's book, Breathe.
How to Do It
Sitting upright is better than lying down or slouching, because it allows more space for your lungs to expand. Support your arms with the arms of your chair, or lay your hands in your lap to relax your shoulders and chest. Spend several minutes on your breathing practice. This is a good one to try:
1. Take a slow four-count breath in through your nose, breathing into your lower belly. Your belly, rather than your chest, should expand. Breathe calmly. Don't "over breathe."
2. Hold your breath effortlessly for one or two counts.
3. Exhale slowly through your nose for four counts.
4. Wait one or two counts before taking another breath.
5. Repeat 5-10 times.
If you want to try guided meditations to support your breathing practice, check out the free meditations at UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center.
Whatever works best for you, strive to practice for at least 5-10 minutes twice a day to install calm breathing as one of your go-to Powerups to help you slay the dragons you meet along the path.
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