Feeling moody? Wish life was easier? Tired of feeling tired? Wish you hadn't snapped at your partner (a few times) this morning before work? Want to feel more even-keeled and energized?
My baby keeps me up a lot at night. Last night he spent over an hour wide awake fussing, chatting, nursing, in the wee hours of the night. And repeat that scenario again at least once. Not sustainable, but we are working on it. With my other boys I just suffered through all the night waking, cranky and exhausted for years, at war with my own stress.
But this time around I have a power weapon that wins peace every time: my Breath. Okay, I've always had that, I just didn't fully understand it's magical power. But now I know how to use it consciously to boost my energy, sharpen my sleepless mind and ease the no-sleep-grouchies.
My trick?2O minutes of deep breathing done in a special way, slowing the pace to a specific ratio. This completely shifts my day ( I sneak it in during one of my babe's naps). It moves me out of frenetic activity, or exhaustion, and restores my energy, peace and patience! On days I don't get this power dose of breathing magic, I drag by midday. And that is just me, with my “champagne problems” and average stress level.
For many people this kind of breathing is a life saver. Breathing consciously has been the focus of a lot of scientific attention lately, and has been shown to reduce or eliminate anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, even symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Refugees, soldiers home from intense combat, people who have lost their homes from natural disasters—all of these have found immense comfort and relief from the very simple tool of the breath.
Have you ever noticed how your breathing directly affects your emotions? Most of us understand that breathing is necessary for survival and for vitality, but few people value its impact on emotional health.
Shallow irregular breathing limits our oxygen intake, as well as traps the toxins that should be escaping, increases the heart rate, elevates blood pressure, leads to an imbalance in our blood gases, speeds up the monkey mind, and throws your nervous system and brain chemistry out of whack. This habit becomes self-perpetuating as the muscles become chronically tense from breathing incorrectly, leading to muscle pain and more of the same vicious cycle: anxiety, depression, and all the moodiness in between.
All of which to say: breathing poorly makes us feel like crap. Or worse.
Because the breath is the only way we can consciously affect our autonomic nervous system ( effecting our stress and hormonal regulatory systems), it's the route to go if you are looking for a way to feel level and healthy. For all of us, regulated breathing balances brain chemistry, lowers the heart rate and increases HRV ( another article just for this coming someday!) , decreases blood pressure, calms the mind, energizes the body and brings the nervous system in to balance. In short, conscious breathing creates harmony within our mind-body-emotional selves, elevating feelings of peace, contentment and even creating harmony in our relationships, and our sense of belonging in this world.
In my work in the mental health field over the last few years I have helped many people simply by teaching them how to breath well. One woman I worked with, when triggered, would go into intense fits of anxiety and panic, as well as bouts of intense pain. We learned together that as I helped her slow and regulate her breath, coaching her through specific breathing patterns, her anxiety would fade along with the intensity of the pain in a matter of a few minutes. She was amazed by this and, over time, started to be able to use it on her own, so that she had much more control over her mood and her pain. Her life changed significantly as she saw she was not a victim of her life, but an empowered leader of it.
There are many different ways to regulate the breath ( Pranayama, as we say in yoga lingo) for specific results. There are rapid breath techniques, slow ones, specific ratios of inhale to exhale; mouth breathing affects us differently than nose breathing; breathing dominantly through one nostril gives rise to different results than the other; there is breathing that includes making sound, or movements, and techniques that include retaining the breath. These myriad pranayamas elicit varying effects : some energize, others cool and calm, some lead to a sense of clarity and balance, some enhance concentration, while others induce deep rest. But all of them target specific ways of bringing an out of balance stress system back into harmony, creating vibrant emotional, mental, and physical health.
What do you notice about your breath when you are in a hurry or when you are having a tense conversation or argument, or when concentrating on learning new task? Shallow breathing or no breathing at all! But try this: worry about something, and then slow the exhalation portion of your breath way down. See what happens to your ability to worry over the next few minutes. Most of us can't find any worry at all when breathing this way. It's as if the full breath and slow release says to us: “Troubled? Then rest with me for I am not.”
Having a guide to sort through the breath regulations options and clarify which ones are best for you and fit well into your life is the key to inviting these vibrant healing tools into your life. We dig into this deeply in Unleash Your Love.