The breath is an immediate doorway into discovering what is happening in the body and mind. Your breathing is a reflection of all kinds of systems in the body including muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological systems. It affects energy levels, and your emotional state, and is in direct relationship to your energetic system which regulates the movement of Qi or prana throughout the body.
As you encounter stress your breathing is impacted. Because many of us are leading fast paced lives full of stimulation the quality of breath can become compromised. Because breathing is closely connected to so many systems in the body we can refine the breath in order to heal disordered habits leading to lesser anxiety and stress.
"To become a welcome vessel for the breath is to live life without trying to control, grasp, or push away" ~ Donna Farhi
3 Breathing Practices to Soothe Anxiety and Find Peace of Mind
For all of the practices below find a comfortable position to rest. Lie on your back with your head and neck slightly supported with a small folded blanket. You can use some support under you knees or if its at all uncomfortable to extend your legs to the floor you can bend your knees and place the soles of the feet on the floor hip distance apart.
These practices can also be used at anytime during your day when you're feeling overwhelmed or under stress.
Begin by finding a place that feels still and relaxing. Turn your attention towards your body and notice any areas of gripping. Notice if there is tension held anywhere in the body. When you notice tension take a deep breath and gently invite the body to release. In particular bring your awareness to the area just below your navel. If you notice some holding or gripping at your lower abdomen ask your belly to soften as you continue to relax. You can take a few deep breaths through the nostrils if that helps you to settle.
After a few moments of releasing and relaxing areas of tension begin to once again draw your attention to the area just below your navel. Invite your breath to deepen and notice the subtle way the belly moves up and down with the inhale and exhale. It's ok if you don't notice anything at first - just continue to deepen your breath and relax your abdomen. You can imagine your torso is a large vase and as you inhale through the nostrils the breath travels down to the belly first to fill the vase. The belly rises with the inhale and gently falls with the exhale. Don't force the breath but continue to draw the breath gently deeper into the body. Repeat for 10-20 breaths.
Lengthening the Exhale
Take the first few breaths to relax and settle your body. Feel the support of the earth as you focus on the weight of your bones dropping. Without changing the breath place your attention on the exhale. Watch as the exhale gently releases and continue to soften your body. After the first few cycles of natural breath begin to gradually lengthen the exhale. Over the course of 10-20 breaths invite the exhale to lengthen without straining. Don't force the breath; if you find yourself grasping for the next inhale relax and allow the breath to flow naturally.
Pause after the Exhale
Start by relaxing the body and lengthening the exhale as above. After you have established a relaxed and deep exhale begin to take a short pause after the exhale with the lungs empty of air. Don't hold the exhale longer than feels comfortable. Instead take your next inhale when you feel the impulse for the next breath. See if you can slowly over time lengthen the pause after the exhale. Start by holding for one second and slowly work your way towards 5 seconds. Remember - it's not important how long you hold the breath for. It's more important how you're feeling during this exercise. Never go beyond what feels comfortable.