Bernie Clark, a yin yoga expert, stated that controlling the mind with mind is really hard. “However, there is a back door to the mind, and that is through the breath.” As breath reflects the state of mind, the mind also follows the character of the breath. So if we alter the breath in certain ways, the mind will calm.
Dr. Herbert Benson with Miriam Klipper first popularised the notion of the “relaxation response” as the flip side of the “fight or flight” response. They showed that controlling the breath can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby signalling the body that it is okay to chill out.
We all experience stress, so it is useful to have new tools for managing it. It’s time to make a new friend who has actually been with you all along – your breath!
Over the next two weeks, I will be sharing some breathing techniques you can incorporate into your daily life. This week, I’ll share a few accessible breathing techniques you can try when you are feeling anxious or nervous.
Square Breathing Technique (or Box Breathing)
- Find a quiet place where you (hopefully) won’t be disturbed for about five minutes.
- Take a comfortable seat where your spine is straight and upright. It can be the floor on a cushion, a chair, edge of the bed, etc. It doesn’t matter where you sit, just sit up straight
- INHALE slowly through the nose to a count of four. (Count silently in your head.)
- HOLD your breath for a count of four.
- EXHALE slowing through the nose to a count of four.
- HOLD your breath for a count of four.
- REPEAT the pattern – INHALE 4, HOLD 4, EXHALE 4, HOLD 4 for about five minutes.
- Notice how you feel.
- Once you practice this method a few times, you can even use it out in the “real world” – like when you are stuck in traffic or in a crowded subway car.
This is one so simple you can really practice anywhere, anytime. You can sit in a quiet place for a few minutes and do this, but it’s really handy on the fly – in line at the grocery, in the car (eyes open!), at your in-law’s, before a big presentation, and so on.
- As you slowly INHALE through your nose, say silently to yourself, “I am . . .”
- PAUSE briefly (about a second).
- As you EXHALE, silently say, “ . . . calm and relaxed.”
- REPEAT the pattern – INHALE, “I am . . .” EXHALE, “ . . . calm and relaxed.”
- Repeat until you actually feel calm and relaxed.
Tension Releasing Technique
Anyone ever have a hard day at the office and feel like reaching for a drink? How about when you’ve had a fight with your significant other? Any lingering tension after a negative interaction can leave you feeling like you need a shower, so here’s a technique for an “inner shower” to help release this negative tension and move on.
- Sit on a cushion on the floor if that is comfortable. Allow your arms to hang by your sides and hands to lightly touch the floor. (If floor sitting is not happening, a chair is fine. Allow your hands to hang by your sides and imagine they have a connection with the floor, like with a string, beam of light, or something like that.)
- Close your eyes.
- As you INHALE slowly through your nose, focus on the middle of your chest, the heart centre.
- Briefly HOLD the breath in, and silently say to yourself, “I am releasing all negative tension.”
- As you slowly EXHALE through the nose, visualise tension flowing out from your chest, past your shoulders, down your arms and fingers to the ground and away. (You can visualise the tension like black smoke, or green slime, or any way that’s meaningful to you.)
- REPEAT this pattern for 5-10 rounds of breath or until you feel lighter and more relaxed.
- After your last EXHALE of the exercise, SHAKE your hands and fingers a few times to release any residue.
Try these out for just a few minutes and see what happens. I’ll share three more tips next week that are slightly more involved. But breath work doesn’t have to be complex. When all else fails, just breathe!