by Gaye Abbott
“Are you breathing just a little and calling it life?” Mary Oliver
Let’s face it, we live in a stressful time. There is no question why anxiety (and the medications that are so often given indiscriminately) is rampant. Not only do we have our daily stressors, but currently the entire planet is at a tipping point environmentally, ecologically, economically, socially, culturally, and spiritually.
Systems are collapsing right and left and we wonder whether there is anything we can do to be free of so much anxiety in our own lives and at the same time be a catalyst for positive change.
One of the answers to this widespread individual and global anxiety is to understand deeply that we are intimately interconnected with all life – human, animal, insect, plant, earth, water, air, cosmos – as current scientific evidence is confirming. By focusing on ways we can lessen our own anxiety we automatically impact those we come in contact with every day including the much larger circle of life.
Just as globally we have the awareness and technology to heal, repair and restructure into living systems that work within collaboration, cooperation and deep respect for all life, we also have at our disposal a tool that is with us all the time – the breath. Put your attention on how you are breathing right this moment and notice how it feels. Is it tight, shallow, held, rapid or smooth, full, slow and rhythmic?
Many of us are constantly in what is called a “fight or flight” breathing pattern originating from the sympathetic nervous system – or in other words a built in way of protecting us against what the primal brain perceives as immediate danger or a perception of threat which then causes a heightened state of arousal or anxiety.
This “immediate danger” or “threat” can truly be just that, but most of the times it is not. In our modern world the mind finds threats, worries and concerns everywhere we look: deadlines at work, global warming, terrorism, simple health issues, relationship challenges – in other words projecting fear into the future which we feel as anxiety.
So what happens to our breathing when this ancient bio-chemical “warning system” comes into play? Among other things our breathing becomes more rapid (hyperventilation/overbreathing) and shallow engaging the secondary breathing muscles of the front and back of the neck and upper chest/back. This causes an excess amount of tension in these areas which will never entirely go away unless we choose to change our breathing patterns.
The primary breathing muscles – diaphragm, intercostal (between the ribs), and abdominal muscles – are meant to be used to give us that full-body breathing experience that our bodies innately crave. Our parasympathetic nervous system, or relaxation, “all is well”, response is then stimulated.
Awareness is the key here. What if we took Breath Awareness Breaks (BAB’s for short) instead of coffee breaks? Might we feel more enlivened, relaxed, peaceful and creative?
Breathing fully with our primary breathing muscles and allowing space for the breath to fill us with aliveness on the inhale, and release that which we do not need on the exhale, is a tool that can be used to prevent anxiety from taking us over as well as something that can assist us to halt a pattern of anxious, fear based in the future thinking.
The practice below of rhythmic wave-like diaphragmatic breathing with equal and gradual prolongation of inhalation and exhalation will enhance and empower your bodies ability to experience a sense of deep relaxation and rest, free of stress and strain, and with a marked feeling of calm and peace.
Rhythmic Diaphragmatic Breath Practice:
- Sit upright in a chair with both feet on the floor or ground, or lie down with something under your knees and head if necessary.
- Place your hands on your legs palm side down, if you are seated. If lying down rest your hands on your belly to encourage the inhale to expand there first.
- Take three deep breaths with mouth slightly open and relax into the natural sound that signifies release – feeling the stress exit your body and the toxic mental chatter drain away. Let your body relax/soften into the chair, or the surface you are lying on.
- Inhale completely through your nostrils with your mouth closed allowing the lower abdomen/stomach area to gently rise up as the air moves in (contraction of diaphragm – it moves down) and the ribcage to expand in all directions.
- Exhale completely through the nostrils releasing all of the air out and drawing the naval (belly button) down towards your spine and up under the ribs. (relaxing of diaphragm – it relaxes back up.) The wave of breath unfolds itself to the shore of the next pause.
- Do this practice in a series of 7 breaths. Rest for two minutes while being aware of your breathing and how you feel in your body, mind and emotions. Repeat the process two more times.
NOTE: If you feel caught in the grip of anxiety or panic then modify the breathing above slightly by taking a moderate inhale through your nostrils and then allow your exhale to move slowly through pursed lips as if you were blowing bubbles, blowing out candles or gently moving the petals of a flower with your breath. This will lengthen the exhale and prevent over-breathing or hyperventilation to occur.
This diaphragmatic breath practice massages all of the internal organs, encourages the movement and flow of the lymphatic and vascular systems, and of course exercises the respiratory system which requires moment to moment workouts to keep it healthy and strong. This is especially important when we are sitting for long periods of time or inactive physically.
Next time that you fly, whether in an airplane or on your next stepping off of the proverbial cliff for a life change flight, put your attention on the wave of breath and see what happens. Becoming a welcoming vessel for the breath is like taking flight. Each breath takes you one step closer to freedom!
“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” Sanskrit proverb
Gaye Abbott is a RYT/Registered Yoga Teacher/Therapist and Author of Give Us This Day Our Daily Breath, Gaye has Advanced Training with Integrative Yoga Therapy as well as being a Master Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner working deeply with balancing and harmonizing energy patterns in the body. She has been in the medical/alternative health/healing professions for over 30 years and has extensive experience with 100′s of people in classes, workshops, private sessions, retreat settings, special needs and health challenges, and in shifting the breathing patterns that limit creativity, vital life energy, and vibrant health. www.GayeAbbott.com
Next On Breathing Space
– Another breath awareness practice that can slow down your breathing and bring you into a focused, clear and peaceful state. Indulge Inner Peace….!