Updated: Aug 12
Your own breath is your most powerful tool in times of crisis...
Our world, and life as we know it is undergoing massive change; bringing with it a range of different stressors for people. Some people are thriving in this new found drive to perform, while others are overwhelmed by the situations they are facing day to day - and for good reason. And this is the great paradox of stress.
Chronic or repeated stress can do more than make us feel a bit anxious; it can lead to physical illness. At a time when we need to stay as healthy as possible, it's worth noting that stress can suppress the immune system, dry out the digestive tract; which in turn can lead to irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. Many of us will also be familiar with impaired memory, severe anxiety and disturbed sleep. We now know that long-term stress can shorten telomeres which accelerates cellular ageing.
On the other hand, we rely on stress to give us vitality and enthusiasm for reaching our goals. Without stress, we wouldn't have the courage and enthusiasm to race our best race at an international competition, to act on stage in a major show, to push beyond our comfort zone or even leave the house.
The problem arises when we lose perspective in our lives and succumb to illusions of the mind based on the situation we find ourselves in and the choices we make.
What does breathwork have to do with stress reduction?
When you experience anxiety, fear or anger your breathing (and your heart rate) becomes erratic. The physiological imprints of anger can stay in your system for hours.
When you experience the opposite states such as joy, passion, and love, your breathing becomes smoother, consistent and rhythmical which brings your heartbeat into a regular rhythm. This regular, rhythmical state is called 'coherence' by the HeartMath Institute.
Through a regular practice of bringing awareness to your breath and learning new breathing techniques, you are able to control your breath and choose how you respond to the situations around you.
Breathing Techniques for Stress Reduction
Outlined below are three different breathing techniques that will bring you into different states and help you to shift out of fear, anxiety and stress into more positive, harmonious states:
Heart Coherence: Research shows that that HRV is increased most by breathing at a rate of 5 or 6 breaths per minute (5 seconds in, 5 out; or 5:5) with an equal I:E (inhale:exhale) ratio. However, coherence still occurs with any ratio as long as you breathe rhythmically. HeartMath Institute has invested heavily in researching the impact of HRV on the body. What we now know is that creating heart coherence has a positive impact on resilience, mood regulation and state of mind.
Flow States: Flow is when you are fully immersed and focused and engaged in an activity - we mostly know it as 'being in the zone'. One of the techniques used by the military to accelerate entry into flow state is box breathing. Box breathing: * Inhale * Hold * Exhale * Hold This simple technique can be used for 5-10 minutes to bring back a sense of calm and equilibrium and help prepare you to enter a flow state.
Rest & Digest: To activate rest and digest the optimum ratio of I:E is 0.5, meaning that the exhalation should be twice as long as the inhalation to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Breathing with a 4:8 rhythm will bring you to a deep state of relaxation.
Using conscious breathing techniques is the simplest, fastest and most cost-effective way to thrive during uncertainty; deal with complex issues, create space for problem solving and be more resilient to day to day corporate life.
Tim Snell is a Coach, Consultant and Licensed Breathwork Instructor. He specialises in helping individuals to create a legacy they want to live right now; and helping companies play a bigger game. He incorporates breathwork and universal wisdom into his work to deliver transformational change.