I cannot believe the amount of times I’ve been told to breathe. In yoga class, in guided mediation, in school when I was six and had a stomach ache. It’s funny that if you watch a baby breathing, his whole belly moves as he inhales and exhales, there’s no thought involved, it’s natural. So why are we reminded of this constantly as adults? We are taught to stop breathing. We stop breathing fully because we want to be as thin looking as possible, our lives are constantly stressful, and even in relaxing exercises like yoga and Pilates I hear, “suck in your belly,” and I don’t think I’m crazy to believe I cannot suck in my core and breathe into my stomach at the same time. But, I am trying to breathe and this is why.
It’s scientific, your parasympathetic nervous system is your inborn way to stop stress. Inborn, as in easy and already a part of you. What does it do?
The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS):
• Increases digestion
• Decreases heart rate
• Decreases blood pressure
• Allows us to relax
Those are all of the things that we search for to help us in our hectic lives. Basically, the PNS needs to be given a little more attention to help you not only regain balance and control when life throws one too many curve balls at you, but to keep you from feeling stressed in the first place.
The easiest way to engage the PNS is by proper breathing. When you are completely relaxed like after you have unwound after work or just after the gym, take a full deep breath and then let it out completely. The real goal is to take six breaths per minute which is how slowly we breathe when we are relaxed. Count to five while you inhale and again while you exhale. Try to do this for a whole minute. Let yourself breathe as deeply as you can and exhale slowly and completely. Try not to hold your breath and allow your stomach move up and down while you breathe. You want to be relaxed to start because the goal here is just to get comfortable breathing and the effect that this can have. You will notice that as you breathe, you will enter a deeper state of relaxation. Try this for a week, twice a day.
This first step will help you release the stress from the day and know how good it is to feel totally relaxed and calm. Step two is where I have struggled the most, but where the real change begins. Start your breathing technique and think about something stressful. Imagine a project at work you are in the middle of, a fight with a loved one, or even something you fear or worry about. The more upsetting the thoughts are, the better. As you start to feel the stress mounting from these thoughts, focus on your breathing. You will be able to feel calmer even with stressful thoughts running through your mind. Do this again for a week, twice a day.
The last step in helping your PNS evolve is to take this private practice out into the world. Now that you have had two weeks of teaching yourself to relax, you are a pro. The next time you are faced with a stressful situation, start to breathe. You have had so much practice that no one will notice that you are focusing on your breath, but your stress will melt. You will be able to stay calmer and relieve stress faster. This will expand to every aspect of your life. As you learn to anticipate what will upset you, you will begin to breathe deeply and stop the stress from happening at all. This will help you sleep better, have more patience at work and at home, and have more joy in your life. Just think, the only thing you have to do, is breathe.