By Nicole Gustavson, Inform Fitness
We’ve all challenged ourselves about our life perspective: Am I approaching life with enthusiasm, or am I focused on reacting to the next event? We all endeavor to carry a positive life view and live a life where our emotional anxieties and fears don’t dictate our choices. But where do we fall short? How do we manage a life where worries, fears, and stress don’t rule our mental health? One step is to by committing ourselves to daily meditative breathing.
We know that breathing is an instinctual activity for the sake of oxygenation; without breathing we can’t maintain health, much less improve it. But breathing also serves as an indicator and regulator of our emotional well-being. How we breathe, and what breathing exercises we engage in, determine much of how our body manages emotional and mental health.
It is precisely for the management of our physiological well-being that deep breathing exercises are so important. Blocking, suppressing, or denying our emotional responses to things around us stunts our breathing. How many times have you been in a stressful situation, sat down, and sighed a deep breath? It’s the body’s way of regulating our internal physiological processes. Relaxing while stressed is challenging, but intellectually we understand the importance of not making rash decisions or responding out of emotion. Breathing is a critical part of relaxing in these moments. By freeing our breath, we enable our bodies to stop the build up of stress, and we allow ourselves to physiologically decompress.
Staying mentally present is dependent upon proper breathing and enables us to be proactive in managing stress levels – serving as a prophylactic process. By maintaining a focus on our breathing patterns, we retain a degree of focus and concentration on ourselves – and avoid the anxiety from external people, places, and things which evoke emotional responses. The concept of emotional intelligence is predicated on exactly this state of being: the union between our physiological and emotional selves.
Breathing to Manage Anxiety
To be aroused is to be in a state of heightened physical and mental activity, resulting from internal and/or external stimulation. In contrast, anxiety is a level of heightened awareness characterized by stress, worry, and unease. While also occurring in response to internal and/or external stimuli, anxiety causes detrimental physiological responses such as increased and erratic blood pressure and heart rates, in addition to the release of immense amounts of cortisol from the adrenal glands –in elevated doses can trigger depressive and anxiety disorders.
So, while arousal is a state which can be positive in experience and outcome, anxiety is not. Arousal enables our bodies to perform mentally and physically at their best. Proper breathing is perhaps the most important tool we must ensure that we not only attain that optimal state – and mitigate anxiety – but maintain it throughout anxiety-filled experiences. The rewards of good physiological health are the result of proper regular breathing, good breathing exercises, and daily periods of meditative breathing.
What do these breathing exercises look like, which teach us proper daily breathing? Put simply, we inhale through the diaphragm – in the middle of our torso – and belly instead of our chest. The chest and shoulders contain a higher concentration of muscle groups, which only serve to create muscular tension conducive to building stress – which is exactly what we’re trying to eliminate. In simple steps:
- Sitting upright with your back firm against a chair, and feet flat on the ground, settle your shoulders, and relax your body.
- Place your left hand on your abdomen to measure the contraction of your diaphragm with each inhalation and exhalation. Look to exhale completely, allowing your lungs to collapse smoothly, and without force or strain. As you do so, feel your hand fall inwards on your abdomen. Then as you inhale again, control the air coming into your lungs smoothly and evenly, feeling your hand rise on your diaphragm as your lungs fill with air.
- Breathing abdominally, relax into a natural breathing pattern. Maintain the same pace but allow your body to learn this rhythm. To do so, your mental state begins to merely monitor the process rather than control it. Maintain focus on the pattern, the pressure, temperature, and feeling of the air as it enters and leaves the body.
Try this for 5 minutes each day, and progress to 20 or more minutes.
It is part of our nature for thoughts to enter our mind while focusing on breathing. This isn’t something to be frustrated by. Instead, simply release the thoughts and avoid holding onto them; allow them to leave your consciousness as easily as they entered. As you progress in your exercises you’ll soon find that they no longer create a distraction.
Nicole , CHC, brought InForm Fitness to Northern Virginia and is owner of both the Leesburg and Reston Studios. Her qualifications include a degree in Health Coaching from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Metagenics First Line Therapy, and extends this developing expertise in the areas of Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching to better serve her clients.
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