How can you make a mistake when you breathe? After all, you’ve been able to survive this far! If you’ve observed your body, breath, and posture when you are anxious before a meeting or around a stressful relationship you’ll often find a few characteristics. The shoulders may be raised up high and the breathing may be chest breathing with shallow breaths. Breathing can also be irregular when we are under stress.
In yoga teachings, they say that many people often take fifteen breaths in a minute. With practice, one can slow it down to four or five breaths per minute. Breathing is natural and doesn’t seem like something we can improve, but having inner tension can result in shallow and jerky breathing patterns. In yoga and meditation, often breaths such as alternate nostril breathing, a breath of fire, and segmented breaths are used to help the body and mind relax.
Try to watch what your breathing pattern is when you have tension around work, school, family, money, or other concerns. Don’t judge yourself, but just look at it. If you start criticizing yourself, you are adding additional thoughts that can result in agitation. Just watch where you hold the tension. Is your jaw clenched? Are your shoulders close to your ears? Do you feel that your breath is incomplete?
One way to check is to make a contrast. If you have a view from your house or are near a natural setting, see what the quality of your breathing is when you look at something beautiful. How does the rest of your body feel? One of my clients who is a teenager told me she never gets headaches when she sleeps at her grandmother’s house. We all have settings where we know our breathing is deeper and more relaxed. Music can also have that effect and that is easy to use in the house or when you can’t get to a natural setting.
Put a Light Pillow On Your Belly To Practice
Years ago, I took a yoga class and the instructor had a place a light pillow on our bellies while we were on our backs. This is a good way to practice diaphragmatic breathing. The belly will rise up, towards the sky with the inhale. That is how a baby breathes. This helps the lungs inflate with oxygen. It is called “paradoxical” breathing when the opposite pattern occurs. Many people inhale and the belly goes in, the chest tightens and the shoulders go up. Try to practice ten minutes a day with a pillow on your belly and watch feel it rise when you inhale.
Jody’s School Stress
Two years ago I had a 15 year old client who went to a private school and she felt inferior due to her family’s low income situation. She only had a “flip” phone and her clothing was not from well-known designer brands. Though on one level, she knew that status symbols were shallow, she also felt it hurt her social life.
I encouraged her to let others see her creative sides as she made excellent animations and was talented in drawing. She was too shy to do this but did want to have more inner tranquility. I showed her this breathing (pranayama ) meditation and she found it was quite helpful when she fell into comparisons with others.
A Pranayama Meditation
This is a kundalini yoga meditation taught in a 1971 class by Yogi Bhajan.
In the first part, sit comfortably with your hands in the lap and have the tip of the thumb touch the tip of the index finger with relaxed hands. It’s fine to sit in a chair or on the ground cross-legged. Breathe slowly, filling the belly, then the ribs, and finally the upper chest. Hold your breath for ten seconds and then exhale for five seconds. If it is too long to hold it for ten seconds, then reduce the time so it’s comfortable. This can be done for a few minutes and then another minute can be added where the holding period of the breath is increased a few seconds longer. Feel the breath and bring the mind back to the inhalation and exhalation as thoughts arise.
In the second part, close your eyes and look mentally at the third eye point. Close off the right nostril using your thumb and take a nice, slow inhalation through the left nostril. Hold it for fifteen to twenty seconds. Then close off the left nostril and exhale through the right in four sniffs. Do this same pattern for three to four minutes (inhaling through the left side and exhaling in four sniffs through the right side.). After doing this, try to do two more minutes with the same pattern, except you’ll exhale with 8 sniffs rather than four sniffs. This has a calming effect on the mind and body. The thoughts may continue, but the mind has a different relation to them.