Using the Breath to Help Us Slow Down & Relax

The Natural Breath happens organically and without effort.  It flows in and out with no need to direct or control it.  The natural breath is truly a blessing.  You see, breathing isn’t just essential to living, it is also essential to our overall health and wellbeing.

But before we get into the breath and how it can help us slow down and relax, let’s take a moment to revisit the familiar concept of fight, flight, or freeze.  When we feel threatened or stressed in any way, our bodies will enter into one of these three responses.  What we mean by this is our body, including our breath, changes in a way to support our selected response to the stressor we are facing in an attempt to successfully overcome the stressor. 

The problem though, is that our body doesn’t know the difference between an actual physical stressor versus a perceived stressor.  In other words, your body will respond in the same way if a lion is about to pounce on you as it will if you are afraid of failing losing your job or of not getting into the college of your choice.  A stressor is a stressor, at least as far as the impact of the stress on your body and mind are concerned.

This is important to know as it helps you come to terms with the power of the mind to suggest or control our reality.  But we also have to figure out what to do to bring our bodies and minds back from that stressed place, to release the accumulated stress from the situation.

In the wild when animals are stressed (such as when a gazelle is being chased by a lion), they also experience the fight, flight, or freeze response in their bodies just as we do.  What’s remarkably different though is how they come out of that stressed state (if they are lucky enough to survive that stressful ordeal).  Using our gazelle example, once the lion is gone (the stressor is physically no longer present), the gazelle will shake almost uncontrollably.  Its body literally shakes off the stress to release it.

Humans however do not shake our stress off as animals do.  We might give a sigh of relief, go soak in the tub, get a massage, go for a run, have an adult beverage, vent to a friend or family member, or eat a decadent dessert, but we don’t physically shake off the stress of our experience.  Despite all those “self-care” things we do for ourselves DO NOT release the stress – they may temporarily make us feel a little better, but the stress of the experience is still in our body, held by our organs, muscles, etc. 

Magnify that by the fact that we are almost always in a high stress mode, moving from one stressor to another.  If we don’t ever come out of that stress mode and allow our bodies time to rest, relax, and fully release the stress from our multitudes of stressors, our bodies never get a break.  Over time that continual accumulation of stress held in the body leads to all kinds of issues, including disease and inflammation in the body.

So, what we can do about it. How can we break that stress cycle?  How can we “shake off” our stress?  This brings us back to the breath. 

Learning to control the breath in certain ways helps the body to transition from that stressed state (when the sympathetic nervous system is calling all the shots) to a calmer, more relaxed state (when the parasympathetic system takes over and begins to release the stress that has collected in the body).  There are many breathing techniques to choose from, but for our purposes on the blog today, here is one easy technique you can incorporate anytime and anyplace…

Breathe into a count of four, pause at the top of the inhalation for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four.  Repeat as often as needed (or for as long as you have available if you are incorporating this in between meetings or activities in your daily life) until you feel your body releasing, relaxing, and letting go.  You can do this breath as many times throughout the day as you need to.  In fact, it is a great technique to incorporate throughout your day as you transition from one thing to the next (helping you to release the stress from the one situation before heading into the next stressful situation).

Breath work is key to helping the body slow down and relax.  Anyone can do it, it takes just seconds at a time, and can be done just about anywhere.  So, the next time you are feeling stressed, pause for a moment and come to the four count breath.  Relax and enjoy.  Namaste.

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