At its root, stress is resistance. When I teach, I find myself over and over again instructing students to relax, to stop straining. Inherently, in this modern world, there is so much work and strain happening that it is as if we have completely forgotten how to relax.
Want to know if this also applies to you? You may not even be aware of how much stress and strain you are carrying.
Try this simple one-minute test. Place your hand on your sternum and take 5 normal breaths. Where do you notice the majority of the air enters your lungs? The bottom part of the lungs? The middle? The upper chest?
Most adults have learned, due to consistent stress in their lives, to breathe into the upper part of the chest. What many of us don’t know is that when we breathe into the chest, we actually trigger the body’s nervous system to respond in fight or flight. It is a vicious cycle—we feel stressed so we breathe shallowly, and shallow breathing actually makes our body feel stressed.
As children, we knew how to breathe deep down into the lungs. It was natural and easy.
Over time, so many of us have forgotten how to breathe correctly.
There is a very simple breath known as the three-part breath that will help to re-introduce air into your lungs so that you can breathe fully and deeply.
Just follow these simple instructions:
Lying down or seated with a long spine, take several breaths. Notice your breathing.
Place your hand on your belly, and send the breath into the belly. Feel your abdomen move with the inhale and exhale.
Now place your hand at the point where the two butterfly wings of the ribs meet. Inhale and exhale here, and send all of your breath to this area. Feel the middle part of the chest expand and contract with the breath.
Now bring your hand to your sternum, and isolate the breath in the top part of the lungs. Breathe several times this way. You may even notice as you do this that you become a little anxious (for reasons described above).
On the next inhale, draw the air in through your nose and all the way down to the belly first, filling the lower part of the lungs with a third of the inhale, and then the middle part of the lungs with a third of the same inhale, and finally the top part of the lungs with the last third of the inhale. On the exhale, begin first with the upper chest, middle chest, and then finally exhale all the air from the belly.
Continue to breathe in this way for 3-5 minutes. Notice your lungs becoming full with the breath and deflating fully on the exhale.
Finally, notice how you feel.
Just as the upper chest triggers the stress response, breathing down into the diaphragm actually has the opposite effect— it creates the relaxation response in the body. What this means is that we literally have the power to change our entire nervous system response from stressed to calm simply by working with the breath. This is because the entire autonomic nervous system is connected— so when we affect change in one area— in our breathing— then the other parts of the system are affected as well.
The next time you notice that you are breathing shallowly, or that you are stressed, I invite you to take some time to simply breathe deeply. It takes very little time to move from stressed to calm with this great breath. Enjoy!
In lightness and ease,