Feeling Stressed? Reset with Your BreathingFeeling Stressed? Reset with Your Breathing

By Albert Vaca, L.Ac.

Take a deep breath. Now take another one. Notice where your breath starts. In your chest? In your abdomen? Notice how you feel. When I first learned the simple technique of abdominal breathing, I hadn't noticed that most of my day, I had been breathing shallowly.

If you have ever watched a baby breathe, you may have noticed that they breathe through their bellies. As we get older, adults tend to breathe more from the chest and consequently miss out on numerous health benefits.

Awareness of your breathing is very important to your overall health. One benefit is learning to relax your body. Taking a deep breath relaxes the nervous system. Deep breathing can relieve stress, reduce pain, and improve mental and physical performance.

Part of the natural stress response is to increase your rate of breathing when there is a threat. Blood pressure goes up, digestion slows down and your muscles tighten. This is a good thing when we are in a fight or flight mode, such as when encountering a bear in the forest. But more often we find ourselves stressed by day-to-day concerns: traffic, a deadline, a relationship, or worry.

When I am stressed or worried, it sometimes makes me feel overwhelmed and tired. My decision-making suffers and I feel disconnected from my feelings and the people around me. What I have found is that when I stop and center myself, I gain clarity about what needs to be done and I am able to see what is truly important.

Taking a deep breath or several breaths resets our bodies and minds, allowing us to respond appropriately to everyday, nonthreatening stresses. It improves our mood, increases clarity of thought, and sets the stage for more restful sleep. And it doesn't cost a cent to benefit from such improvements in your health.

Try this: Lie down on your back and place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen. Inhale through your nose. Which hand rises when you inhale?

Now, consciously inhale through your abdomen, making your left hand rise with your breath. Be aware of the left hand moving downward when you exhale, expelling toxins and stress. Five deep inhalations and exhalations will take less than one minute of your day.

How do you feel when you inhale deeply?

Become more aware of your breathing throughout the day. Set reminders for yourself on your phone or on sticky notes at your desk, even on the dashboard of your car. Make a habit of taking a few full breaths while in line at the store. Use red lights as a moment to check in with your breathing. And think about establishing a set time to check in with your breathing every day.

The fact is that I am important and that you are important and we need to treat ourselves as such. Chinese medicine is all about finding balance; when we're thirsty, we drink. When we're cold, we put on another layer of clothing. And when we're tense and stressed, we need to unwind and soften. Let the positive habit of conscious breathing lead you on a road to better health.

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