(Note: first published on my stressarrestman blog)
Stress Management strategy #7 is something we all do but unfortunately not many of us do it correctly - especially in times of anger and stress.
I’m talking about breathing.
If you notice an angry person you will see that his breathing is rapid and shallow whereas a calm person breathes deeply, slowly and easily. It follows therefore that if we were to emulate the calm person and follow his breathing patterns we would become calmer.
Physiologically, It is impossible to remain stressed or agitated if your breathing is relaxed and even.
One of my hobbies is archery and breathing is crucial to accurate shooting. It promotes a calmness and inner peace which is blissful to say the least and gives you full control over where the arrow goes.
Become Aware Of Your Breathing
To start the stress relief ball rolling then, we need to become more aware of our breathing and notice how it changes as our mood changes. Pay particular attention to the depth of your breaths as you go about your daily routine.
Do you breathe in all the way to your stomach? Or, more likely, are your breaths more shallow and barely going past the top of your lungs? Do you notice a difference as your mood changes, say when an important deadline is looming?
Well, let’s start to change that right now and give you some pleasant and instant relaxation. It will only take a few minutes of your valuable time but the rewards will be immeasurable.
Start by switching off or silencing your phone and email (it’s only for ten minutes or so - you won’t miss anything important!)
Now sit down in a comfortable position where you won’t be disturbed and close your eyes. You will be focussing your mind on your breathing but if any thoughts come to you, let them. Allow them to come and drift by like a lazy river meandering to the sea. Pay no attention to them, just keep your attention on your breathing.
You breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Let the breaths come evenly, not sharp shallow breaths. Focus on quality breaths. Do not hold your breath for a long time between the in breath and out breath, and do remember to breathe!
As you breathe notice your jaw, is it relaxed or do you have it clenched shut? A lot of tension is carried in our jaw, often going unnoticed. Don’t grind your teeth, just let your jaw hang open a few millimetres in a relaxed position. (This alone will start to calm you down)
Now you are going to focus on your breath, as you breathe in you are going to imagine breathing in calmness and relaxation. As you breathe out you are going to feel all the tension and worries leaving with the expired breath.
Breathe in the relaxation and calmness slowly and evenly for a count of five. Allow the breath to enter through your nose naturally, don’t force it, and travel all the way down to the bottom of your stomach. (If you rest your hands on your stomach you should feel it start to rise as you breathe in whilst your chest hardly moves at all. When you experience that it is a sign that you are breathing correctly) Keep breathing in gently and slowly for the full count.
Now pause and rest your breath gently for a count of two. Your jaw should be relaxed and you should start to feel peaceful.
Next slowly and evenly start to breathe out for a count of five. Breathe out through your relaxed, open mouth calmly and evenly allowing all the tension and worry to come out as you exhale.
After a count of five, pause in your breathing for a count of two then start to breathe in relaxation and calmness once more.
Repeat the cycle for about five or ten minutes focussing your mind on the relaxation entering your body with your inhale and ALL stress and worry leaving as you exhale. You might notice the pleasant feelings of the cool air entering your nostrils. The cool air entering your body will cool down any anger and stress and help you to become even more relaxed.
If you find it a little taxing to breathe in & out for a count of five and hold for a count of two, reduce the count until you are comfortable. As your skill improves you can gradually increase the count. The key is to never feel short of breath but remain comfortable and relaxed at all times.
That’s it. It’s so simple but the effect is very profound. Enjoy your regular practice and you’ll be able to change your mood through your breathing any time you want, even when waiting at a crowded bus stop. Your productivity will increase and your mood will become calmer and lighter, heck you may even smile more often too.