Throughout the day our attention is often scattered among countless responsibilities and tasks. At times this can leave us feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Taking a mindful moment within your day can help to combat stress and bring a greater sense of calm so feel more confident in taking on these daily tasks. But with our busy schedules, we often ask how can we even find time in our day to do this?
Deep breathing practices are one of the most simple but effective ways to relax and lower stress. Best of all, most practices can be done in as little as 30 seconds!
Why is deep breathing helpful? When we are stressed, our body responds to this stress as a threat. To protect ourselves our sympathetic nervous systems kick in and our body goes into the fight-flight mode. We find our heart beating faster, blood pressures increases, our breathing quickens and becomes shallower and our body tenses up. Breathing practices are aimed to teach you steadiness and support a gentle shift away from this fight-flight mode. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. Your brain then sends this message to your body to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as our rest and digest function. Those things that happen when you are stressed, all decrease as you breathe deeply. This practice grounds and stabilizes an overactive system, so the mind and body can relax again. Many breathing practices include counting breaths, as this counting provides focus and feedback to let you know if your mind is drifting from the practice.
The “Equal Breathing” exercise, which focuses on steady inhalation and exhalation of equal duration is a easy but effective deep breathing practice which can be almost anywhere. It is an effective tool to help when you find yourself anxious, overwhelmed, or simply disconnected from your body/mind, or just needing a moment of calm. It is also so simple that it can be a great practice to teach children to help them when they are experiencing anxiety that can support you in experiencing the benefits of deep breathing.
Here’s the step-by-step process to help guide you through this practice:
First, find a comfortable seated position. You can sit on a blanket, pillow or in a chair to support the diaphragm to be open for easier breathing. You may also do this practice lying down for greater effortlessness. You may choose to have your eyes open or closed, whatever is most comfortable.
Begin to notice your natural inhale and exhale. Notice the length, the sensations in the body and how the breath is flowing. Notice the transition between the inhale and exhale. If you notice tension, try to slow the breath so it is quiet, gentle and smooth between the transitions.
Then, start to count the inhale. Start by breathing in slowly for three steady counts. Gently turn to exhale, breathing out for three steady counts. Continue this for several rounds.
If this counting feels too short, slowly start to increase the count working your way up to a steady count of 10 (ie. breathe in for 6, out for 6, breath in 8, out 8, breath in 10, out 10). Only go to a count that you maintain comfort and ease in the body and mind. Most important to just ensure your inhalation and exhalation are the same lengths.
You can Do 10 rounds of this breath, or if you would prefer you can set a timer for 30 to 60 seconds so all you need to focus on is breathing at a gentle pace, continuing to relax and remaining present. If you lose count, simply begin again.
As you finish your practice, let the breath return to normal. Pay attention to the relaxation you feel, and the changes you notice in your body and mind after this balanced breathing.
When first starting to introduce breathing exercises into your day, it might be helpful to set a reminder to help you remember to take a moment to practice. With time, these practices will eventually become a more natural part of your daily routine.