I’m not talking coffee breath or morning breath! Even though we know those are real issues 😉 I am talking about how the breath is the most powerful tool we have to help us lower our stress and anxiety levels.
Most of the time we don’t notice the breath, we know the basics – if we are breathing we are alive. It’s automatic and an unconscious reflex initiated in the brain stem.
So how can something that’s automatic become a powerful tool to calm us down and lower the amount of stress and anxiety we are feeling? Simply by paying attention to each inhale and exhale or Consciously Breathing.
What I’ve learned over the years as a yoga student and teacher is just how powerful consciously paying attention to the breath can be when it comes to our mental, emotional, and physical health and wellness.
Connecting to the breath is in itself a mindfulness practice, allowing you to be in the present moment, not the past or future. When you focus on each inhale and exhale you are present. How powerful is that all by itself?!!
Ok, I’m going to dive into the brain for a moment, don’t fall asleep! Remember that our automatic/unconscious breathing is initiated in the brainstem. When we consciously breathe we activate a different part of our brain called the cerebral cortex. Cool right?!! Wait, it gets better! When we pay attention to the inhale and exhale and consciously slow the breath down, we can have a direct biological effect on our present emotional state, calm ourselves down, reducing our stress and anxiety levels!
I want to share with you a simple breath practice that can be done anytime and anywhere to help reduce your stress and anxiety levels, called the Three-Part Breath. This conscious breathing pattern is one of the most calming and grounding breath practices that you can do.
- Find a comfortable position, sitting or laying down.
- Simply begin that mindfulness practice of just noticing your breath. Where do you first start to notice it? Stay with that focus for a few moments bringing yourself deeper into your present moment.
- Gently start to seal the lips allowing each inhale and exhale to move slowly in and out of the nose. Take a moment here. Let the breath smooth out, no forcing, just a slow steady pace.
- Keeping the breath slow and steady, on your next inhale through the nose, start to fill the belly with air, allowing it to gently rise. Continue to pull the breath up to the ribcage, finding some gentle expansion there. Finally, sip in a little more breath into the upper chest around the collarbones, feeling a gentle rise.
- On the exhale out through the nose, let the air release first in the upper chest allowing it to soften and lower, then the ribcage, feeling the ribs slide closer together. Finally the belly, gently drawing the naval back towards the spine.
- Start the Three-Part Breath again. Inhale belly, ribs, upper chest. Exhale upper chest, ribs, belly.
- Repeat 5-10 times. Keep the pace slow, steady and smooth. Don’t try to force the breath or breathe too deeply.
- Once you have completed your 5-10 cycles, release that breath practice, take a big inhale in through the nose and big exhale out through the month, let go of control of the breath and just check back in with yourself.
- Repeat as often as you need to anytime you feel stress and anxiety starting to creep up.
About the Author
Kristen Barfield, RN-BSN
RYT-200 and owner of Blooming Life Yoga Studio, knew even before attending her first class that there was something special about yoga. It was something that kept calling to her as she raised her family and worked nights as a Labor & Delivery Nurse. Kristen kept thinking that there had to be something more than the traditional fitness paradigm, something that connected with her on a mental, physical and emotional level. After attending her first Hatha Yoga class, Kristen knew she was home.
Kristen’s yoga journey has carried her through the mental and physical highs and lows of her life. The self-study practice of yoga really meets you where you are every day. Love~Practice~Growth~Community are the foundations of Kristen’s yoga practice as a student and teacher.
“Do your practice and all is coming.” ~ Sri K. Pattabhi Jois