When overwhelmed by anxieties from the past or anticipations of the future, remember that you can always find a feeling of looseness and ease by connecting to the sensation of the breath.
Here’s a quick breathing exercise you can do right now to trigger the relaxation response in your body if you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or stressed:
Close your eyes.
Inhale fully for two slow counts.
Exhale fully for four slow counts.
Repeat for 1-3 minutes.
Open your eyes.
The way we breathe often reflects the way we feel. Whenever we’re stressed or overwhelmed, we often take quick, shallow breaths into the chest through the mouth. Whereas whenever we’re relaxed or calm, we often take slow, deep breaths into the stomach through the nose.
By extending your exhale twice as long as your inhale during this breathing exercise, you’re stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system – the portion of your autonomic nervous system that relaxes your body after stressful situations. There might be some resistance to the outward breath at first, but over time you’ll find that your ability to extend the exhale strengthens and comes more naturally. And as a result, you’ll feel more relaxed.
How To Practice Moving Forward
Here are a few ways you can refine this exercise as you continue to practice:
1: Sit upright with your head, neck, and back in nice alignment with your ears over your shoulders and shoulders over your hips. Not slouching forward or arching backward. Allow the muscles and bones in your body keep you nice and upright. You can use back support if you need to and simply rest your hands on your lap.
2: Breathe in and out through your nose if you can.
3: Keep your stomach soft and draw air down into the stomach as you inhale. For each inhale, feel the breath fill up the stomach, then ribs, then chest. For each exhale, feel the breath leave the chest, then ribs, then stomach. Allow the body relax and settle with every exhale.
4: The timing of the count should be similar to “One Mississippi. Two Mississippi…”
5: If you want to experiment with the timing of inward and outward breaths, just remember to keep the exhale at least twice as long as the inhale – and for as long as you feel comfortable.
Continue to Reconnect with Your Breath
Bringing your awareness to the breath is a powerful way to anchor yourself in what’s happening right now. If you’re using the breath as the object of a meditation, like the one above, the more you practice, the more you’ll be able to settle down both the body and the mind and find relaxation within each breath.
And once you become familiar with this feeling of ease within the breath, recognize that this feeling is always there. It’s always somewhere below the surface. No matter how crazy things may seem, it’s always there.
By familiarizing yourself with this feeling of looseness and ease during your practice, you can reconnect with that feeling regardless of how overwhelming or stressful your day might be. All you have to do is take a moment and return your attention to the sensation of the breath. All you have to do is return your attention to the anchor that grounds you into the present moment.