Find Your Calm: Breath Control

When it feels like things are out of control, look to put your focus on the things that you can control, your breath, and your response to your experience. In this newsletter, I’m going to share with you breathing techniques which can be applied to every day anxiety, or to stress related to athletic training or events.

When we are under stress, our breathing is typically a shallow chest breath, which triggers a sympathetic, or fight or flight response in the body. This can increase anxiety and, over the long term, can have negative affects on our health. Chest breathing also overworks the sternocleidomastoid muscles on the sides of the neck. This can create muscle tension, causing symptoms such as neck/jaw pain and headaches. Scientific studies have shown, that by consciously changing the way that we breath, we can trigger

a parasympathetic, or relaxation response in the body; which calms the body and relaxes the mind. Here are two types of breathing techniques for you to try when you feel anxiety creeping up, or at a routine time, such as after waking up or before bed.

According to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center, "Diaphragmatic breathing allows one to take normal breaths while maximizing the amount of oxygen that goes into the bloodstream. It is a way of interrupting the 'Fight or Flight' response and triggering the body's normal relaxation response.” A greater range of motion in the diaphragm increases the amount of air being inhaled/exhaled, provides a massage for the interval organs, and facilitates movement of lymph through the bloodstream, increasing the elimination of toxins.

How to do it: 

  1. You can either sit or lie on your back.
  2. Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest.
  3. Slowly inhale through your nose and feel your stomach start to expand. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
  4. Exhale through your mouth, as if you’re blowing out a candle. Draw the belly button in towards the spine to more completely empty the lungs.
  5. Repeat for a few breaths, or for a few minutes.

Alternate nostril breathing has a long history in Ayurvedic medicine, holistic medicine originating from India, and yoga. Practicing this technique is thought to harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, resulting in a balanced in physical, mental and emotional well-being. Recent studies have confirmed some powerful benefits of this practice:

  1. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces blood pressure.
  2. It enhances respiratory functions: increases respiratory strength and endurance.
  3. It improves attention and fine-motor coordination/performance.

How to do it:

  1. Sit in any comfortable seated position. Relax the body and breath naturally for a few moments, allowing your mind and body to settle.
  2. Rest your left hand on your lap or knee.
  3. Place your right thumb gently on your right nostril. Place your ring and little fingers gently onto your left nostril. Allow the two extended fingers to rest lightly on the bridge of your nose.
  4. Close your eyes and begin by softly closing your right nostril (using your right thumb) and inhale slowly through your left nostril. Then exhale through your left nostril.
  5. Close your left nostril (using your ring and little fingers) and release closure of your right. Inhale through your right nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.
  6. Close your right nostril and release closure of your left. Inhale through your left nostril. Exhale through your left nostril.
  7. This completes one round. Continue the pattern from steps 4-7 for as long as you wish. When you’re finished: relax both arms, sit and breathe naturally for a few moments before opening your eyes. Here's a video demonstration.

While there are many things in life that we don’t have control over, our breath is one aspect that we can control, and with many potential benefits. Although it may feel like you’re going through this in isolation, you are not alone! As I write this, I’m thinking of each one of you, and sending you positive thoughts.