Want to know one practice that has made a major difference in my life and lowered my stress by half?
Ready for it?
No, not just any kind of breathing, but regular, brief bouts of deep, thoughtful, belly-breathing. The kind of breathing that expands your lower abdomen into a mini-impression of a happy buddha belly, while leaving your overworked chest to take a break from breath production. Your abs take on the work, expanding outward into a deliberate pooch as you slowly suck in massive quantities of much needed oxygen, then gradually tightening and contracting to exhale those last vestiges of CO2…
Health benefits of deep breathing:
Turns out that simply five minutes a day of belly breathing, broken up into one minute segments can be a real miracle! This deep, considered breathing actually resets your nervous system from your typically harried scamper into a parasympathetic (read: relaxed) state. (If you want to go into more detail, I suggest you check out the whole technique and its context over at Steve Barnes’ blog. )
Reset your Stress!
Guess what? Resetting your stress with belly breathing can be vitally important for your health. Among many other things, people under stress tend to:
–be more forgetful about past knowledge, and unable to commit new ideas to memory (feel like working towards early dementia?)
–be more likely choose bad foods, be cranky and make bad decisions due to poor blood brought on by cortisol and insulin spikes. (Junk food noshing, moody, impulsive shopping anyone?)
– use up key nutrients at an alarming rate. If your body thinks a tiger is chasing you, it’s going to put itself into overdrive- it can’t tell that it’s just your reaction to your 3 year old screaming for Flaming Cheetos for the thousandth time.
Under extended or extreme stress your body can use up vital nutrients like magnesium, zinc and B vitamins at an alarming rate- anywhere from 2-300 times your usual expenditure (reference to come.) Yowza! So even if you are eating what you think is a good, nutrient dense diet, you may be worse off than the guy down the street eating McDonalds if you can’t get a handle on runaway stress.
On the plus side, implementing deep breathing is one of the simplest steps you can take to help short circuit this dastardly loop. It may not solve everything, but it’s a great start that can help you get a toehold into choosing other positive behaviors.
How I Fit it in to My Life:
Let’s be honest, if you’re already stressed, you’re not going to remember to stop and breathe in the middle of the last minute deadline dash at work. I set a recurring alarm on my phone spaced out regularly through my day to help remind me.
The alarm goes off and I take that minute to breathe… and this is critical folks-
I do it even if I don’t think I need it!! (We are building a pattern here people!)
Set yourself up for anti-stress success:
Do what you need to keep up your consistent dedication to deep breathing practice. Build it into your life, make it easy for yourself with alarms, notes, visual and location triggers (every time you walk past the water cooler…?) to reap major rewards.
As you form the habit, you will eventually catch yourself unconsciously using your deep breathing more and more throughout the day- without even needing an alarm, resetting your nervous system any time you need it…