Everybody has them. Those little moments throughout the day when we hold our breath or forget to breathe. Maybe it’s only for a second or two and is so subtle we don’t even notice.
It usually happens when we’re focused on doing something important, like changing lanes on the freeway, remembering a critical detail, lifting a heavy weight, and that kind of thing.
At other times our breath quickens and shortens, like when we’re exercising, running up the stairs, raking the leaves, or running after a little one who is fast on his feet. That’s fairly normal. However, it’s at the times when we’re not pushing ourselves and our breath shortens that we need to pay attention to it—it’s usually when we’re stressed.
When we’re worried, confused, scared, in pain, hear bad news, or feel overwhelmed, we may gasp, inhale, and briefly hold our breath.
Stress, in general, disrupts our breathing. A tense body and mind discourage the smooth, long, and easy breaths we need in order to feel relaxed. A tense body and mind encourage shallow, uneven, and even painful breathing at times, all of which add to and intensify stress.
How Can I Break the Cycle?
Since ancient times, yogis have practiced the art of pranayama, or yoga breathing, as a way to regulate and control their breath, to bring health and balance to body and mind.
In this fast paced and often chaotic world we live in, it’s never been more important to find ways to slow down and find balance. Pranayama exercises help us do that. They help support the nervous system and activate the “relaxation response”, reducing stress and its effects on us. With regular and consistent practice, the mind and body naturally begin to feel more calm and focused.
To begin with, it’s helpful to become familiar and aware of our breath. This helps us to slow the breath down. You can do this anytime you like. Simply breath in and out through your nose, noticing how you inhale and exhale, and noticing when it speeds up and when it slows down. Try this regularly several times throughout the day. This type of “checking in” awareness is also beneficial to our other yoga and meditation practices.
Here are two pranayama exercises you can try yourself at home: