For most of us, stress is practically a given. We remind ourselves constantly to eat wholesome food, get adequate rest and take care not to overcommit, but sometimes, thinking about what we should be doing to control our stress levels causes them to rise. It all becomes a vicious cycle and we get more stressed out at the fact we are getting stressed in the first place.
For anyone who can relate to this scenario, take a moment now and breathe.
Go ahead: inhale…and exhale.
Do it three times and focus on the feeling of your breath as it filters in and out.
The simple act of taking a few mindful breaths helps to calm the nervous system and slow us down.
Luckily, there is no one correct way to breathe, so you don’t have to spend any special time “learning how to breathe correctly”. A simple technique we teach at Body Harmonics is to follow the path of your breath while inhaling and exhaling. We recommend this to all our clients as a way to melt stress:
As you breathe in, allow air to travel in through the nose, down the throat and into the lungs. To exhale, simply let the path be reversed and don’t blow the air out forcefully.
How You Breathe has a lot to do with the Stress you experience
Unconsciously, many of us adopt faulty patterns of breathing over a lifetime and these are magnified when we feel stressed. What most people don’t realize is that restricted breathing contributes to feeling stressed. There are four types of “faulty” breathing patterns and each one contributes to stress in a significant way. Best practice is to identify your pattern and pay attention to the sensations in your body as you breathe. Read over the following descriptions and see if any of them seem like you.
In reverse breathing the abdomen moves in on the inhalation and out on the exhalation. These folks often experience shoulder and upper back tension.
This breathing relies on upper body muscles because the lower ribs are unable to expand to allow the diaphragm to move and the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange is poor. Chronic upper back, shoulder, and neck tension are common.
In this type of breathing the person’s chest is drawn down and their shoulders hunch. The result is shallow upper chest breathing and strain in the lower back. Collapsed breathing at its extreme can contribute to depression.
Frozen breathers hardly move when they take a breath. They take shallow breaths and actually increase tension in their entire bodies.
Reasons for these patterns have been linked to biomechanical, biochemical, and psychological influences. While all three are intimately connected, intervention in one area can have very positive effects on the other two. At Body Harmonics we work with the biomechanics perspective and stick to simple exercises that focus on awareness and ease of movement so you end up literally “freeing” your breath.
Breathe Easy and Ease Stress
In most cases our natural respiratory process emerges the moment we pay attention to dismantling the restrictions that impede it. At Body Harmonics we use the following four steps to melt away stress-inducing breath patterns.
Identify what you do when you breathe. Refer to the patterns described above. Focus on how it feels when you breathe. Some people can actually feel how breathing contributes to feeling stressed and tense.
Incorporate some simple mobility exercises for spine and rib cage into your day. This helps our bodies to unwind and release excess tension. Try: cat stretch on hands and knees, shoulder rolls, slow standing rotational movements starting at the head and working downward through the body. Gentle arm sweeps in all directions can be beneficial too. Anything that moves the spine helps you breathe more freely!
Gradually work towards more “generous” breathing. Breathe according to your own rhythm to start. If you experience muscular tension or anxiety when you breathe it is important to ease off. Sometimes, attempts at deep breathing can actually lead to anxiety and panic attacks! If breathing becomes stressful, go back to the BODY HARMONICS “path of your breath” exercise above.
Explore different ways of breathing to improve overall capacity. The goal is to promote ease and adaptability so our varied breathing needs can be met without stress and strain. Most breathing exercises are either diaphragmatic or costal (rib cage). Find a couple of exercises you like and do them periodically through your day. During your commute to and from work are great times to practice! An exercise is effective if you feel like your breathing is getting easier and increased rhythmic movement throughout your torso is visible.
Benefits of Freer Breathing
- Better oxygenation for the entire body results due to a balanced exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lower lobes of the lungs; when our tissues are better oxygenated it helps reduce the feeling of stiff, sore, tight muscles.
- Enhanced function of the brain, organs, and tissues.
- Normal speech is supported, so neck and jaw tension dissipate.
- Mobility in the spine and rib cage increases while rigid muscular structures relax; this suppleness promotes the feeling of wellbeing throughout the body.
- Digestive function is enhanced because the movement of the diaphragm helps to modulate intra-abdominal pressure and provides a type of massage for the organs.
- Muscle tone improves in all of the muscles associated with breathing – from the pelvic floor to the scalene muscles along the cervical spine which leads to a feeling of space along the entire spine, which makes moving easier and promotes feelings of openness to everyone and everything around us.
How do you talk about breathing with your clients? Do you talk about what is happening, or what could be happening? How do your clients respond?