In stressful situations, we often hear people say “just breathe,” but what does that actually mean and why does it help?
Inhale and exhale. In and out. The breath just does its thing. The breath isn’t worried about a “to-do list” or becoming more efficient, it doesn’t dwell on the past or worry about the future, it just continues to keep us alive and doesn’t make a big deal of it.
When we bring our attention to our natural breath, it shifts our awareness from the stress in the moment to the sensations in our body such as the rise and fall of our chest. This present moment awareness gives us the time and space to temporarily forget about the past and not worry about the future.
Being mindfully present results in reducing cortisol levels. Mindfulness can help control anxiety, improve sleep, decrease blood pressure, and reduce stress, just to name a few.
The ideal breath cycle consists of a full inhale, expanding our chest and belly completely. At the top of our inhale, holding for a few seconds and then exhaling a little longer than the inhale, all the way to empty. This practice stimulates our Vagus nerve. The Vagus Nerve is a cranial nerve that connects the brain to the body traveling from the head all the way down to our abdomen. When stimulated, our heart rate lowers which helps our bodies handle everyday stress.
This type of breathing has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest. By stimulating our bodies in this way, we can manage stress, boost healing, decrease pain, and regulate our nervous system. Distractions and stressors are part of our everyday lives, but by practicing mindfulness meditation, we can cope more effectively.
Our breath is our superhero who is always with us to save the day. No matter where or when we feel anxious, we can take a few deep breaths and let our Vagus nerve work its magic. By practicing mindfulness, we develop beneficial habits and feelings, such as a positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, healthy sleep patterns, and even increased pain tolerance.
Now is the time to begin a mindfulness practice. Start by sitting quietly in a comfortable space for a few minutes at a time. Use your breath to redirect your thoughts to the inhale and exhale. Focus on the sensations and sounds of your breath. This is mindfulness. To further your practice, you can download apps that provide guided meditations or attend a meditation class in your area. Harness the power of your own breath to gain control of your mind and body through this amazing practice. Stay balanced
Julie Egbert, Wellness Coach at Balance Wellness, is a meditation guide that was trained by The Chopra Center and Ziva Meditation. She practices daily and offers guided meditations every Monday and Tuesday evenings from 7-8pm. To learn more about meditation or attend a guided meditation class, call Balance Wellness Center at 732.903.2222 or visit their website at mindandspine.com.