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Monday, November 1, 2010

Controlling stress with breath work

Ah, the holidays are upon us. For many, this time of year creates a lot of stress in their lives. As my readers know, nothing exterior can cause an internal reaction unless you let it. So, what is stress? Stress is an emotional reaction within to an external circumstance. In other words, it doesn't exist. You cannot take a can and go capture stress. It is within us, based on our reactions to a situation. And since we control our reactions, then we can control stress. But, needless to say, many people still do not do this. So, how can you start getting a peaceful reaction to your surroundings and eliminate stress? The very first rule seems simple, but it is always overlooked. Don't forget to breathe!! Our respiration controls our body systems. If we increase our respiratory rate, our heart rate will increase, along with our blood pressure, and if we keep increasing the rate, eventually your hands will cramp up and you will pass out. It's called hyperventilation syndrome, and once it starts, it is very hard to control. On the other hand, when we breathe rhythmically with controlled deep breaths, we lower both our heart rates and blood pressure, and we can create a sense of peace.

When people get stressed, they tend to hold it in a particular area; their foreheads, chest, legs, and some even start moving their feet or hands to combat the stress. It is important to identify where you hold your stress, so you can work on releasing it. The other thing that happens, is we lose track of our respiration. The pattern that develops is small, shallow breaths, usually with a period of holding that breath in between. If you consider 100% a good, full, deep breath, then the situation above would be about 33% of a normal, controlled breath. This is subconscious in nature, but it actually adds to the anxiety of the stress. The body knows something is wrong, even though consciously, you are not aware that your breathing pattern has changed. So now, you can start seeing a pattern in my teaching. As always, the first thing you need to do to be able to change your respiratory pattern, and change the stressful reaction, is to be aware that you are holding stress, and breathing improperly. Only when you are aware can you change your environment. (Have you heard that before?) Once you are aware, then simply exhale, and exhale fully, relaxing your body along the way. When you do this, it will feel really good! The tension is suddenly gone, and the body relaxes. Now you can take control of your breathing.

There are many different breath exercises to do, but this one is one of my favorites, and it is by far the easiest to teach, and easiest for the student to do. Breathe in through your nose for about 4 seconds, counting the seconds in your head. (you can use one, one thousand, two, one thousand, etc as a guide). You can shorten this or lengthen the time if you need to, but 4 seconds is a good time period. Then, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale through your mouth, controlled for 4 seconds, and finally, don't inhale for 4 seconds after you fully exhale. This end part is the most important part of the exercise, as the body is in its most still position. Notice the feeling that you have when you have exhaled fully. After a few times, you will notice that you do not need to take a breath in right away. That's good. Just sit in the emptiness. Feel it. Experience it. This is where you will find your calm, and alleviate your stress. Do not pay attention to any thoughts that pop into your head. If thoughts come in, start breathing again, concentrating on the counting of the seconds. That is why we do that, to concentrate on something other than the runaway thoughts in your brain. After a while, you will notice that you are not counting anymore, yet you are not thinking of anything. Welcome to a meditative state! This is a great exercise to do on a regular basis, but it also is something simple you can do anytime you feel stressed. Combine this with relaxing your muscles when you exhale, and you will feel a calm, relaxed state. Stay here for a while, and then continue with your activities.

When you control your breathing, you control your body systems, and you will find a calm place inside of you. When you are calm on the inside, nothing outside can create the "stress" within you, since that place is already filled with calm. Remember, an external situation only effects you if you let it. If you approach the situation with calm from deep within you, then your reaction to the situation will be calm. If you react from an emotional or egotistical place, then your reaction will be filled with stress and dis-comfort. Know that you have a choice. Practicing good breath work will continuously keep you in a calm place.


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