A Simple Breathing Practice for Anxiety

A Simple Breathing Practice for Anxiety
When we become anxious, we begin to breathe more shallowly, and our exhale becomes shorter. This means that carbon dioxide builds up in our bodies, which in turn excites our sympathetic nervous system. We are then programmed for ‘fight or flight;’ if the situation resolves quickly, our body them returns to a normal state. However, what if there is no resolution? In an anxious season, or for those of us with anxiety disorders, we live in a state of heightened arousal. This takes its toll on our bodies and makes it difficult for us to implement healthful practices. It’s hard to eat right when we can’t sit still long enough to think; it’s difficult to do anything rather than get away from the situation, whether physically or emotionally.

Fortunately, we can stop the cycle. Keep in mind that the body is reacting to a specific chemical state, the build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood. If we can restore the balance of oxygen, we will relieve the body of the need to fight or flee. How do we do this? By consciously focusing on lengthening the exhale, we return ourselves to balance.

Come to a simple seated position. If sitting in a chair, make sure the legs are supported. If one is tall enough for one’s feet to touch the floor, easy enough; short people should grab something to slide under the feet so that they do not dangle. Another solution is to sit in a simple cross-legged position, either in a chair, on the floor, or on a bolster to relieve stress on tight hips.

Straighten the back. Check the arms; if they are short, having the hands on the knees might pull the body forward, rounding the spine. I personally need to keep my hands on my thighs.

Once in position, close the eyes. Take a moment to settle in and then take an inhale followed by an audible exhale with an open mouth. Do this two or three times. If desired, follow this with a few rounds of Simhasana, or Lion’s face: open the mouth wide and stick the tongue way out on the exhale. This helps the facial muscles to relax. It also feels a bit silly, and humor helps to defuse tension.

When ready to move on, bring the attention to the breath. Place one hand on the upper chest and one on the belly. Follow the movement for a few breaths without trying to change anything; just allow the breathing to occur. Whatever the body is doing is what it has needed to do. Note everything without judgment or shame.

After this, assign a count to the inhalation and exhalation, bringing the breath to Equal Breathing. Perhaps count the in-breath to four, followed by an out-breath of four. After repeating this a few times, start to lengthen the exhale. A few rounds of “inhale four, exhale five” can then move to “inhale four, exhale six,” and so on. One’s body will recognize when the exhale is long enough; usually, the out-breath ends up twice the length of the in-breath or somewhat longer. Stay within the comfortable zone, as extreme and rough exhalations may have the opposite effect from what is desired.

Continue this for a few rounds, until the feeling of anxiety begins to subside. If stubborn nervousness doesn’t go away, try to stay non-judgmental. Sometimes one needs to experience and overtly allow the feeling to surface before it goes away. Feel free to repeat the sequence if that helps.

You Should Also Read:
Equal Breathing
A Stress Relief Home Sequence
Pranayama and Stress Relief

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