Stress Reduction 101: Breathe!
My friend, Robin Baker borrowed this from Confessions of a Pioneer Women's blog post 9/16/08 - I'm borrowing it from Robin!
Hi, guys—it’s Gee, Ree’s mom, and I want to talk about breathing today. Breathing: what could be more automatic? Why would I write a tutorial on breath? Well, believe it or not, it’s because your breath is one of the most powerful tools you possess for improving your health.
You may never even have noticed that from your first step onto the floor in the morning until the time your head hits the pillow at night, you breathe in shallowly and rapidly according to your emotional state and external stress. You singers and yoga types are with me already, aren’t you? This is unconscious breathing. Your emotional state and external stress determines your breathing.
The good news is this: You can turn that around. You can make your breathing determine your emotional state, and this can vastly improve your physical health. It involves learning a simple technique called Soft Belly Breathing (a.k.a., “conscious breathing” or “diaphragmatic breathing”).
No pieces of exercise equipment are required; your breath is always with you! What IS required is intention—intention and a minute or two at your desk, on your front porch, waiting in the carpool line, sitting in your physician’s waiting room (plenty of evidence exists that belly breathing lowers blood pressure), after an argument with your boss, or, for Ree, while preg-testing cows. It’s YOUR intention, YOUR awareness, YOUR experiment…not an imposed agenda.
Why bother to learn belly breathing? Evidence-based research now shows that stress is a component of almost any disease we can name, and that by committing to de-stress, we can promote our own healing. What great news!
You say there’s no time in your life for week-long vacations or even twenty-minute meditations? No problem! In one or two minutes, you can halt the secretion of those stress hormones (adrenaline, epinephrine, cortisol) that are are playing havoc with your immune system. Not only that, they are being produced entirely without your permission since they’re a product of the autonomic nervous system (meaning they happen automatically.)
The bottom line is this: Stress hormones are toxic to your health, and YOU have the antidote! So, let’s get to it! Are you ready to signal your body that you are in charge?
(Note from Ree: My mom seriously does this every time she comes to my house. Welcome to my world.)
Sit in a chair in which you feel comfortable and supported, with your feet on the floor. Soften your belly (Yes, this move is a bit counter-cultural, as we’re all about holding it in, aren’t we? Ree always has a problem with this part. It’s a ballet dancer thing. But don’t worry—no one is watching!) Breathe in through your nose and imagine a column of air going directly to your belly and filling the space, almost as if blowing up a balloon. Breathe out slowly through your mouth.
Try it again. Breathe in through your nose, directing the air to the abdominal region…..then out through your mouth. Your upper chest is not moving—only your belly. Continue that breathing and on every outbreath, imagine more tension and worry leaving your body. Breathing in calm…..breathing out tension.
(Note from Ree: I feel it, Mom! I feel it! Ahhhh. I’m letting it happen.)
Hush, Ree. I’m not talking to you. Now, continue with several more belly breaths, then stop and notice where you feel relaxation in your body. Are your shoulders coming down? Are the muscles in your arms, legs, neck letting go and relaxing?
Hooray! You’ve done a great thing for your health while investing only a couple of minutes! Now, when you think of it throughout your day today (remember, intention is the key), try it again, and again, and again. (Note: If you want, add soft, relaxing music, low light, and continue for 5, 10 or 20 minutes.)
Here’s to your health, PW readers! Keep breathing!