Breathe Yourself Calm

Many of the health challenges I see in clinic are manifestations of an unbalanced stress response. Too much time spent in fight or flight mode affects all our body’s systems, including hormones, sleep, digestion and immunity.  The relaxation response is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system, which is strengthened and toned by regular stimulation. Belly breathing is a simple technique that activates the relaxation response, helping us to better manage the stresses life throws our way. 

Breathing deeply into our abdomen sends the signal to our body that everything is ok. When we practice belly breathing, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, lowering the stress response.  For thousands of years, traditional practices such as yoga and meditation have emphasized the importance of controlling the breath for vitality and health. Research studies have confirmed this empirical knowledge, demonstrating that slow abdominal breathing decreases stress markers and improves the stress response.

Longer, more involved breathing techniques are good to incorporate regularly into your routine, but these 2 simple practices are perfect when you’re in need of instant calm.  Even a few minutes of deep breathing will start to change your parasympathetic nervous system and decrease your stress response. A few sessions a day will build and strengthen your relaxation response – you’ll be a zen master in no time. 

Box Breathing 

Great when you’re at your desk, in the car or don’t have a place to lie down.

Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold your breath for 4. Breathe out for a count of 4. Hold your breath for 4.  Increase the count of each side of the box if you want to deepen the practice. 

Continue for 2-5 minutes.  

Belly Breathing

I like to do this one lying down. Find yourself a quiet patch of floor. Place 1 hand on your abdomen, below your belly button. Breathe in slowly and deeply into your belly, letting it push your hand up. Slowly breathe out, feeling the hand go down as you exhale.   

Continue for 2-5 minutes.