De-stress by Finding Your Breath

Stress:  it suffuses our multi-tasking, multi-screen, multi-responsibility-filled daily lives.  Numerous studies have shown that Yoga is one of the most effective non-medical interventions for high stress levels.  Yet the Catch-22 with stress relief is so often that we need it when we need it, not only when we have time in our busy schedules for a class.

The good news is that you already possess the essential tool Yogis use to calm the mind, relax the body and release excess tension:  your breath.

You can begin the Yogic practice of Pranayama, or breath control, anywhere and anytime, and see results in a matter of a few minutes.

Finding Your Breath

1. Sit in a comfortable seat.  If you are on a chair, place both feet on the ground; if you choose to sit on the floor you can cross your legs or sit on your heels, whatever feels most natural.  Allow your hands to rest in your lap and close your eyes.

2. Let yourself grow aware of your breathing.  Just notice it, don’t try to change it.  Observe a few cycles of breath in and out.  Be curious: is your breathing shallow? Quick?  Do you find yourself exhaling longer or inhaling longer?  Remember: just observe, don’t judge.

3. Once you recognize your current breathing pattern, begin to even it out.  Inhale for a slow count of three, pause for a second while retaining the breath, then exhale for a slow count of three, pausing again at the end when your lungs are empty.

4. Establish this new, conscious rhythm for yourself. Then see if you can inhale by expanding your lower belly and exhale by drawing your navel toward your spine.  Continue to the count of three in, three out, or, if you feel ready, lengthen the breath evenly to four in, four out, and so on.

If your mind wanders, don’t be concerned.  Just note that it happened, and resume counting.

5. Once you’ve taken yourself through several rounds of deep, rhythmic breath, release the conscious effort and allow yourself to breathe naturally.  Notice whether anything feels different: is your heartbeat a little slower? Is your mind racing or have your thoughts quieted?  Again, try to be curious, not judgmental.  Thank yourself silently for these past few minutes, and slowly open your eyes.

Finding time for that yoga class can help extend the calming benefits of this practice even further. But meanwhile, never underestimate what even a few minutes a day of mindful breathing can do to help manage your stress.

Anne Burt is a writer and 200-hour certified Vinyasa yoga instructor based in Montclair, New Jersey

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