Do you have a paper due soon? Or a job interview coming up? Or have an important event in the imminent future? All these things trigger a stress response, the body’s natural release of chemical hormones that cause us to feel anxiety. You might feel a tightening in your chest, your heartbeat and breathing becoming faster, and maybe even develop a slight headache.
As bothersome as it is sometimes, stress is an essential part of life. The stress response is the body’s survival mode, and it can help us cope in difficult situations. But if these situations cause too much stress and become debilitating, it may be necessary to calm down and relieve some of the anxiety. It can be hard to deal with stress sometimes, but luckily, there is a simple way to alleviate the pressure: just breathe.
Controlled breathing is an ancient practice originally developed by yogis, or yoga practitioners, in ancient India, but is still used today. It’s a simple meditation technique that calms the nervous system. By consciously changing the way you breathe, you can control how you feel and stabilize the release of hormones into your system.
Research supports the benefits of this breathing practice as well. Multiple studies have shown that patients who suffer from anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and attention deficit disorder, show fewer symptoms after employing controlled breathing methods.
“I have seen patients transformed by adopting regular breathing practices,” said Dr. Richard Brown, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.
Besides reducing stress, controlled breathing is also shown to affect the immune system. A study done at the Medical University of South Carolina showed that adults who practiced breathing techniques for ten minutes had significantly lower levels of three cytokines, or immune cells associated with inflammation and stress, compared to adults who read a text of their choice for 20 minutes.
Here are three basic controlled breathing techniques that anyone can do in an office or at a desk. Coherent breathing, stress relief, and what’s called the energizing ‘ha’ breath. Coherent breathing is the simplest one. It can be done anywhere and is very useful for people with busy schedules. The first step is making sure that you’re in a comfortable position, either sitting upright or lying down. Then, place your hands on your belly. Breathe in, feel your stomach expanding, and count to five. Hold it, then breathe out to the count of six. Do this pattern for ten to twenty minutes each day.
Stress relief breathing, also called “Rock and Roll” breathing, has an added benefit of strengthening your core. The first step is to sit up straight, on the floor or on the edge of a chair while placing your hands on your stomach. Then breathe in. As you inhale, lean forward while feeling your belly expand. When you exhale, curl forward while leaning back and empty your breath. Repeat 20 times.
Finally, the energizing ‘ha’ breath is perfect for re-energizing your mind and body during the day. Unlike the other two exercises, to perform the ‘ha’ breath, the first step is making sure that you are standing up. Make sure that your elbows are bent, and your palms are up. As you inhale, bring your elbows behind your back. Then when you breathe out, exhale quickly while thrusting your hands forward, palms down, and say ‘Ha!’ out loud. Repeat ten to 15 times.
The trick to these methods is to slow down. So the next time you feel overwhelmed, whether it be with friends, family, school, or work, take a few minutes to perform these breathing exercises and bring your body back to balance.
[Source: The New York Times]