The common catch cry in times of squeeze is ‘I don’t have time to look after myself’!
The challenge is real but there are always things we can do to nourish ourselves and dial down stress – breathing is one of the most powerful. We are breathing anyway, it doesn’t take any extra time, but how we breathe has a significant impact on how we feel.
There is a powerful dual feedback loop between our breathing and mood state. When we are stressed or anxious, the breath tends to get short, shallow and held up in the chest.
Conversely, when we are relaxed and calm, the breath becomes more spacious, slower and moves down into the abdomen. The effect goes both ways though – short, shallow breathing makes you feel on edge and smooth, relaxed breathing gives you access to calm. We can use our breath to change how we feel!
5 simple ways to use the breath
1. Breath awareness
Start with breath awareness. Don’t worry about breathing in any particular way, just become aware of the sensation of your breathing. Feel its rhythm, notice the length of the inhalation and the exhalation, observe where it travels to in your body. Just let it move through you. What you might experience is that when we observe the breath, it begins to regulate itself and we don’t have to make any changes at all. Just invite the inhalation in and all of the fresh energy it brings and enjoy the effortless release of the exhalation, taking with it anything you no longer need. Feeling your breath can be a wonderful distraction from unhelpful thoughts or challenging feelings and sensations. It literally gives us ‘breathing space’.
2. Breath phases
Feel the 4 phases of your breathing. It’s natural to assume that there are just two parts to your breathing – the breath in and the breath out, but there are actually four. We breathe in, there is a tiny pause almost as if the breath turns a corner, we breathe out and there is another momentary and effortless pause, the breath turns the corner and becomes the next inhalation. As you breathe in you could repeat to yourself: ‘in, pause, out, pause’. Allowing those natural pauses to be there helps to smooth out your breath, soothing your nervous system.
3. Candle breath
Use this technique to calm your mind and body, perfect throughout your day or while in bed. Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth with gently pursed lips as if you are very delicately blowing out a candle. Repeat this 3 times, or more if it feels good to you, feeling how it releases tension in your jaw and serves to elongate your outbreath, which is naturally quietening for your mind. You can imagine that you are blowing away what no longer serves you.
4. Belly breath
Belly breath to soften away tension or worry. Bring your hands to rest on your tummy so you can feel the sensation of your breath. You can do this standing, sitting or if this is new to you, lying down is the easiest place to start. Allow your body to relax and to begin with, just feel your breathing. Notice where you feel the breath move in your body – it’s not just contained in the lungs, you might feel movement in your chest, collar bones, sides, tummy and the back of your body. Hands resting gently on your tummy, see if you can direct the breath into them. Imagine there is a balloon in your abdomen, as you breathe in, the balloon inflates and your hands rise and separate. As you breathe out, the balloon effortlessly deflates and your hands drop back towards your centre. Use the belly breath for a few minutes daily in moments of ease and soon you will be able to use this techniques to calm you in just a few breaths during times of stress.
5. Mountain breath
The breath is not only a powerful way to feel calm, we can also use the breath to energise us, uplift us and fill us with confidence! Use mountain breath first thing in the morning to greet the day with purpose or whenever you’d like a mood boost. Stand tall, feet hip width apart and gaze forwards. As you breathe in, raise your arms out to your aides and up overhead, looking up to your fingertips. As you breathe out, slowly lower your arms down by your sides and gaze forwards. Your breathing determines how fast you move your arms, taking the whole inhalation to raise them and the whole exhalation to lower them. You might like to observe the little pause at the top and the little pause with your arms by your sides, allowing the 4 parts of your breath to be there. Notice how invigorated you feel after 6 mountain breaths – the perfect alternative to another cup of coffee. Your adrenals will thank you for it!
Suzy Reading, Psychology & Yoga www.suzyreading.com Suzy is a mother of two, a Chartered Psychologist, Yoga Teacher, Best Selling Author and Wellbeing Coach. She is also a core member of the Nourish Contributing & Founding Team. Suzy specialises in maternal well-being, helping mums manage their emotions, energetic bank balance and the unique stresses of motherhood. Suzy is a contributing editor for Psychologies Magazine and the Psychology Expert for well-being brand Neom Organics.
Suzy has written three books – The Self-Care Revolution: Smart Habits & Simple Practices to Allow You to Flourish, The Little Book of Self-care: 30 Practices to Soothe the Body, Mind and Soul, and Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness and Self-Care for Children and Parents. On the Nourish app, you will find over 50 nourishing tools (incl. 27 short videos) from Suzy, ranging from mindfulness and self-compassion basics, to breathing exercises, to dynamic yoga sequences, to mind based coaching activities. Suzy specialises in helping us find those micro moments to dot through our day.