Finding Calm through the Breath
In James Nestor’s Book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, he outlines how many of us in our modern lifestyles are breathing differently than how we’re supposed to. Many of us breathe through our mouths, into our chests, and way too fast. Sometimes when we’re in deep focus the breath becomes even more shallow and irregular.
This improper breath has been exasperated by us wearing masks. Many of us keep our mouths open when wearing a mask, which causes shallow breathing and even ringing in our ears.
By slowing the pace of the breath and deepening the depth of the breath down into the belly, stress levels and feelings of anxiety can be reduced. This shows up with physical signs as well with a lower heart rate and lower skin conductivity (a measure of emotional arousal).
There are an endless number of breath techniques that can help balance the nervous system. A great place to start is taking a few moments each day to consciously breathe through the nose, expand the breath drawing it into the belly and expanding through the ribcage, and lengthening the exhales out.
There are a number of yoga poses that can help create space for deeper breath
- Shoulder Flossing with Yoga Strap
- Hold a yoga strap with an end in each hand wider than shoulder distance apart
- On your inhale reach your arms overhead and behind you feeling expansion through the front of your ribcage
- On your exhale lower your arms down in front of you
- Repeat slowly and mindfully
- Diaphragmatic Breathing with Hand Weights
- Use a hand weight (2.5 lb) or light sandbag (5 lb) to rest on your belly
- On each inhale draw the breath into the bottom of the lungs and press your belly out against the resistance of the weight
- Repeat 10-20 x
- Child’s Pose with Weighted Blanket
- Land in a child’s pose with a weighted blanket resting on the mid-back
- With each inhale in feel the expansion through the back of your ribcage - think about breathing into the resistance of the blanket
- Repeat 10 x
A Favourite Calming Breath
Box Breath is an awesome tool because it calms down the sympathetic nervous system - fight or flight, which can be overactive when we are overstimulated or stressed. This practice can be customized to whatever your breath capacity is.
How to do it:
- Find a comfortable seat, cross legged or kneeling and allow yourself to sit with a tall spine, feeling open across the chest. Close your eyes or shift your gaze past the tip of your nose.
- Start by taking a deep inhale in and exhaling with an open mouth to empty out your lungs.
- We move through the breath with each step to a count of 4 - but if a count of 2, or 3 feels better for you, stay there!
- Breathe in for the count of 4. Feel the full expansion of your breath into your belly. Pause at the bottom of your breath and hold for the count of 4. Controlled exhale for the count of 4. Pause between breaths for the count of 4.
- Continue through just like this. You can even imagine the four lines of a box being drawn by a glowing light, or a growing vine of flowers as you breathe through.
- Move for as many rounds as feels good for you before returning to your natural breath
- Pause to note how your body and energy feel before moving on with the rest of your day!
Come to this practice any time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, or, add it to part of your daily mindfulness routine.
- Yoga Straps
- Mini Weighted Blankets
- Long & Lean Yoga Bolsters
- Hand Weights
- Modern Zafu Meditation Cushions
Michelle Smith is yoga instructor helping individuals manage feelings of stress and anxiety with yoga, meditation and breathwork practices through virtual programming.