Breathing your way through the holidays.
It is something we all do, yet so often something that we take for granted. It could be said that breathe is equal to life yet more times than not we are unaware that we are engaging in this act, we will usually come to realize the centrality of breath when we are having trouble breathing or when we are experiencing stress and our bodies are tight and our breath is shallow or face paced. This time of the year for many of us, is a time when emotions run high, stress seems to be lurking around most corners and we engage in memories of times past or of wishes for the future. The Christmas season can be the best of times but it can also be a time of heartache, loss and emotional overload. Learning to view breathing in a different way will not take away emotional pain or bring back a loved one who may be gone, however; what it can do is ease the burden, help to ground oneself and enable even a small amount of peace and balance to enter our lives.
During periods of emotional stress the sympathetic nervous system (that which regulates heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, etc) reacts and we then endure many physical responses to stress – shallow breathing, aching chest, muscle tension, etc. Our breath in these circumstances can be used to help regulate our bodies – something that you may have experienced just in a deep sigh or deep breath when stress has been relieved. Our bodies are wired to know how to heal and how to regulate but if too much stress is experienced the body will compensate but relief will not necessarily be experienced. Thus it is important for us to be aware that we can actually train our breathing to move from chest breathing to abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing which allows us to improve blood flow, circulation, improve stamina, and most importantly during this time of year, it can stimulate the relaxation response. Like learning anything new, practice makes perfect and over time the body will catch on and abdominal breathing can become the norm, allowing us to make the most of our breath and experience the benefits. Here is a simple exercise that you can practice through the holidays and into the New Year:
Abdominal Breathing Exercise
Try doing this exercise twice a day or whenever you find your mind dwelling on upsetting thoughts
• Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest.
• After exhaling through the mouth, take a slow deep breath in through your nose imagining that you are sucking in all the air in the room and hold it for a count of 7 or as you as you can up until 7.
• Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. As all the air is released with relaxation, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from the lungs.
• Repeat the cycle four more time for a total of 5 deep breaths and try to breathe at a rate of every one breath every 10 seconds. This allows our heart rate variability to increases, having a positive effect on our heart health.
• If practiced daily we can expect a reduction in the physical aspect of stress, an increase of energy and an overall deepening of ourselves and what we need in the moment.
If this holiday season is causing you excess stress or emotional pain please call The Refuge Center for Counseling at 615-591-5262 or for more information visit our website at www.refugecenter.org .
Information taken from: www.amasa.org/healingthehealer/breathing.cfm