Take a full breath in and a full breath out. How does that feel? Just a tiny bit more relaxed?
Getting grounded through breath has helped me work through and with my anxiety in a major way. Connecting with my breath has been an integral part of healing, it allows me to slow it all down, ground myself, and come from a place of peace rather than fear. As I am writing this, I have to admit that some days are better than others when it comes to coming back to myself, some days I want chocolate cake and a smoke, other days I want a warm bubble bath and a good cry. Whatever feels good for you, start there. In my experience, asking myself what I truly want in the moment, and doing just that, has helped me feel a sense of control that tends to be lacking when I am feeling really anxious. I don’t want to promote unhealthy habits or coping mechanisms, I want to encourage you to begin the conversation with yourself and listen to what you want and need. For me, the more I connect with that inner awareness and follow it, the more change occurs. The breath allows the waves of anxiety to wash over me rather than control my behaviors.
Anxiety is a healthy emotion that signals the body when it feels like it is faced with potential harm or worrying triggers. It sets off alarms all throughout the body that might look like sweating(for me hands and feet), raised heartbeat, looped thoughts, or increased sensitivity. Back in the day, it was the way we survived immediate danger. Danger causes a rush of adrenaline to the brain causing the “fight or flight” response, which prepares us to either confront or bail. Nowadays, those major threats look like stress at work, having real relationships, facing childhood trauma, money(everything money), health issues, and a whole list of other situations that demand our attention without the need to necessarily engage the “flight or fight” reaction in the body. For me, consciously breathing through anxiety can create space and bring the body out of the “flight or fight” response.
Breathing is at the heart of the practice of yoga. The breath is the connection to the divine, the holy spirit in all of us. Pranayama, is the practice of breath regulation and can have a profound impact on our mind, body, and soul. The following three breathing methods have opened my heart to true peace and spacious inner awareness. By focusing on the space in between each breath, I create the space my brain needs to get out of “flight or fight” and stand my sacred ground.
Mindful breathing is super easy and can immediately change my vibe, whether I am stuck in traffic, laying in bed, sitting on the couch, or waiting in line for food(top four things I do in Seattle). Mindfully tuning into my breath helps slow down time.
- Get comfy! This means take note of how the body is feeling, reacting, and holding tension. Notice where the body is bound up and adjust. Choosing to consciously relax.
- Notice how it feels to inhale and exhale normally.
- Take a slow, deep inhale through the nose. Fill all the way up.
- Exhale through the mouth, empty it all out.
- Do this for a few moments, just focusing on the inhale and exhale. Choosing to be mindful of the fullness with each inhale and the emptiness with each exhale.
The Box Breathing Method helps me when my mind is a little too all over the place, because I can focus on counting instead of my anxious thoughts.
- Begin the same way as before, get comfy and simply notice how it feels to breathe normally.
- Inhale through the nose as you slowly count to four
- Hold for the count of four (if comfortable)
- Exhale for the same four-second count
- Do this at least 3 times
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
This one is for the days when I seriously need to cleanse my soul, calm the mind, and release tension. I learned this technique while studying Rasa Yoga and it has saved me. As I continue to build a meditation practice, this breathing technique gets me ready in all the right ways. Nadi means “subtle energy channel.” Shodhana means “cleansing/purification.”
- Sit relaxed and tall, lengthening the spine
- Lightly place the middle and index finger to the 3rd eye
- Place the tip of the ring finger lightly to the left nostril and the tip of the thumb lightly to the right nostril
- Gently close the right nostril and exhale through the left
- Inhale left
- Gently close the left nostril and exhale through the right
- Inhale right
- Breathe with an even ratio in each inhalation and exhalation
- Rest all awareness in the space between each breath
- Breathe this way for 2-3 minutes
What about you? How is your relationship with your breath? Do you think there your breathing has an impact on you state of mind? What helps you stay grounded in moments of anxiety?
“Breath and mind are like two tandem fish swimming in the ocean of consciousness. Where one goes, the other will follow.” | Richard Freeman