Learning to Relax (2)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Correct breathing is an essential part of learning to relax, so today we’ll look at how to recapture the way we all used to breathe as a matter of habit. Breathing plays a large part in the ability to relax because breathing has a psychological as well as a physiological effect on the body. Just as thoughts can change breathing patterns, so too can the way we breathe affect the way we think. Slow breathing promotes calm. Rapid breathing encourages overstimulation of the nervous system. Proper breathing can lower the metabolic rate and make us feel more relaxed. The slower the metabolic rate, the calmer you will be.
Yoga is a technique which is excellent for reducing stress. One of the main factors incorporated into yogic philosophy is learning how to control the breath. But you can still learn to relax through breath control without going to a yoga class. Here are some simple tips on mastering breath control.
- Breathe with the diaphragm, not the upper lung. To best achieve this, lie down on your back and place your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your belly. Now breathe as usual. If you are breathing correctly, your right hand should move up and down rhythmically with the breath, while the hand that is on your chest should only move slightly, if at all.
- Practice this breathing technique until it becomes a habit. If you find it difficult to force the breath down into the belly due to years of shallow breathing, try lying on your back with your arms extended behind your head, or even with your hands cradling the back of your head. This posture raises the diaphragm and makes it even easier to breathe into the belly. Once you get used to the sensation of correct breathing, you can easily incorporate it into a vertical standing or sitting pose, then gradually extend it to everyday activities, such as ironing, typing, or driving.
- If you find that you are a habitual shallow breather, take time out during the day to just focus on your breathing and check that you are breathing down into the belly. It’s surprising how often you will catch yourself doing shallow breathing, which overstimulates the body. A sure sign of shallow breathing is when your shoulders rise as you breathe. If you catch yourself doing this, gently make a conscious effort to breathe down into your belly.
- Once you have mastered correct breathing, counting the incoming and outgoing breath with promote further relaxation. Try breathing in to a count of four, holding for a count of four, and then exhaling to a count of four. Most importantly, do not strain. If this is too difficult, drop the count to a number you feel more comfortable with. In time, you will be able to increase the time taken to inhale and exhale, thus lowering the number of breaths per minute.
Slower breathing promotes greater calm, and over time, changing the
way you breathe can literally change your life!