To connect and check-in with my students, I have long opened my yoga classes offering the general question, "How are you today?" Most often, as one student shares an answer, many others agree that they too feel similarly. With the news reports of the past few weeks, it is no surprise that my inquiry is currently revealing feelings of angst in many of us.
Last week, the first answer to rise from our group was, "My shoulders... they're so tense. My whole body is so tense."
Another added, "Me too. And I can't relax."
More heads nodded as he continued, "My mind is racing all the time. I just can't settle down."
Heads nodded in agreement as a depleted voice rose from the back of the room, "I feel like I've been holding my breath.... for months."
The harder it is to breathe, the more anxious we get. Literally. As our breath grows short and shallow, our fear center is alerted, and our body reacts. We become tighter and more rigid, then breathing becomes harder still. This cycle begins and then feeds on itself, leaving us even more tense and anxious. And when we are in this cycle, it is neurologically impossible to feel "okay".
THE BREATH-ANXIETY CONVERSATION
When a flight attendant tells us to put on our own oxygen mask before we attend to others, what we’re really being told is that we cannot help someone (or ourselves) in an emergency if we are at the mercy of our own anxiety. We become unable to thoughtfully attend to what’s going on right in front of us.
And the truth is that most of us are in some version of this cycle all day long. In fact, we typically don’t even realize how minimized our breathing is most of the time. We’ve gotten so used to feeling restricted, we don’t have any idea that it’s not the way our body is naturally meant to feel.
We can become “breathless” in the blink of an eye. In fact, the stress response initiates in about one-twentieth of a second—the time between two heartbeats. So if we feel provoked, scared, or humiliated or ashamed, our breath becomes short and shallow instantly, the same way it would if we were frightened and had to sprint from danger.
The less freely we breathe, the more anxious we feel. The good news: Mindful breathing can break this loop.
When we slow down our breath and become present, it’s like we are recharging ourselves. Getting grounded and becoming present are practices we do in tandem.
We practice feeling our body land on the earth. And then we practice paying attention to the single thing that can unfailingly anchor us in the present moment: our breath.
THE BREATH IS SOMETHING WE ALLOW
Breathing is not an “activity” we need to accomplish. It is simply a process that we allow to happen. But we can do practices to create conditions for the breath to flow more freely - which allows our body to feel more calm, and our mind more clear and present.
As we practice letting go of effort and feeling the ground support us, we begin to experience the natural rise and fall of the breath. We notice that after an exhale, our lungs spontaneously and organically fill again with air. The breath is simply waiting for more room so that it can fill us. And we can begin to see how our breath is our life partner, always there for us—without question. Similar to the way we learn to rely on the support of the ground, becoming aware of our partnership with the breath reinforces our experience of connectedness. Of not feeling alone.
Here are three simple ways to pause and reconnect with your breath through out your day:
Experience a 3-minute breathing video-practice that can help to calm your mind and center you in the present moment.
The video from here
Flow through a simple 3-minute sequence of mindful movement video-practice to expand your breathing, clear your mind, connect you with your body.
Jillian guides listeners through a Three Breath Pause on CBS Radio and shares a bit about how mindful breathing calms us. (Listen to the Extended Interview here. )