“Smile, breathe, and go slowly” – Thich Nhat Hanh
By now, you are most likely back at work after the holiday season. I bet your break is a distant memory. And you’re planning the next getaway because things are starting to ramp up again at work, and your to do list for the year already feels overwhelming. If this resonates with you, you are not alone.
Stress is a part of life, you can’t avoid it. But there is a free ancient tool that you can use to help reduce stress, and science proves it works.
It’s your breath.
Your breath is a fundamental autonomic bodily function connected to your heart rate, your blood pressure, and your stress response. It is also connected to your mood.
It’s the only autonomic function that we have control over, and that we cannot go without for more than three minutes. By comparison, we can go without water for three days and without food for three weeks.
And yet, we were never taught how to use this life-sustaining tool to our benefit. In fact, most of us have been going about our daily lives not realising that we are breathing shallowly, and as a result, sapping ourselves of the health advantages of ‘proper’ breathing.
The key to using breath as a stress reduction tool is learning how to breathe deeply and in a focused way.
Simply focusing and taking in deep belly breaths will bring you deep relaxation with little effort, and within only a few minutes.
Why not try a few deep belly breaths for one minute every hour? Or if this sounds like too much, why not just take three deep belly breaths (takes less than 20 seconds) in between meetings or tasks. Or whenever you remember to do so and see how this simple technique helps you feel calmer and more centred.
In addition to calming the mind and the nervous system, thereby triggering an instant mode of relaxation, deep and focused breathing has many health benefits, including:
- Nourishing all your organs through an increased intake of oxygen;
- Balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain;
- Alleviating headaches; and
- Calming anxiety.
If you want to learn more, here are two of my favourite TED Talks about the scientific basis of how breathing exercises can improve all aspects of your life.