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Stress Relief

Let your breath be your guide

Tags: , , , , Health, Stress Relief
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When we feel anxious, panicky, or even unconsciously stressed, we tend to take short breaths (called shallow breathing or chest breathing). As a result, our body doesn’t receive enough oxygen, which limits blood flow to important organs and creates tension in our muscles and joints.
This is a physiological reaction to perceived external danger, so when we continuously take shallow breaths we are actually sending signals to our body that we are under threat.

Anything from being stuck in a traffic jam or standing in a long queue, to feeling claustrophobic in a crowded space or even remembering a past traumatic event, can make us anxious and put us into stress mode. Our minds can perceive these situations as threatening/stressful and our body reacts to our thought patterns.

It is imperative to start becoming aware of when we are putting ourselves into stress mode, as these are usually subconscious reactions.

When we breathe full, deep breaths using the full capacity of our lungs, not only are we nourishing our cells with more oxygen, but we are sending calming signals to our body.

In the same way that stressful thoughts in our subconscious mind can create negative changes in our physical body, initiating conscious changes (breathing) in our body can create a calmer state of mind.

  • Stressful thoughts = shallow breath & tightness in muscles
  • Deep, full breaths = calmer mind + calmer body

Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, identified the flip side of the stress response, which he called the “relaxation response.” Benson demonstrated that meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can bring about physiological changes including a lower heart rate, lower breathing rate, and decreased muscle tension along with positive changes in brain waves. Mind-body techniques that elicit this relaxation response have been successful in treating many stress-related disorders.

Correct and conscious breath is the first and most simple step toward releasing stress and anxiety.


Try this exercise:
To find out how you are breathing, place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. On every inhale, notice your chest rising. Notice your abdomen too – does it move?

  • If it doesn’t, then your breath is shallow.
  • If your abdomen moves in on an inhale, your breath is inverted (and still shallow).
  • If your chest as well as your abdomen rise when you breathe in, you are breathing good, relaxed breaths – well done!

If you find it difficult to breathe into your abdomen, try this:

  • Try to imagine that your abdomen is like a balloon
  • As you breathe in slowly, let the air fill up your abdomen as if you are filling a balloon with air, letting your abdomen rise before your chest
  • As you exhale, let your chest go in then your abdomen, as if deflating the balloon
  • Do this exercise 3 – 4 times and feel your body become calm.

There are many breathing techniques and exercises that we can use to release stress from our body & mind. The first step, as always, is to be mindful, to become aware. Only then can we pause and step back before we can breathe our way to a sense of calm and to new perspectives.

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Cravings : When the Mind is Hungry

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The title of this article does not refer to craving intellectual pursuits, but to that intense desire to keep eating a specific food after our hunger pangs have been satisfied.

There’s a real distinction – cravings are not the same as hunger:

  • Hunger is regulated by the body, while cravings are dictated by the mind.
  • Hunger is usually a general need for food while cravings can be for very specific foods
  • Hunger is about surviving physically. Cravings are often about surviving emotionally

Seen in this light, cravings are not the actual problem,
they are merely symptoms of underlying issues.

Some of these could be:

Association
This is when we link certain foods with certain activities. For example, you could be perfectly happy reading a book for hours on end but as soon as you turn on the television your mind goes to the kitchen. Or as soon as you come home from work you reach for a glass of wine. As soon as you have the kids in bed you feel the need for cake. Etc.

Procrastination
Write this report, or get a snack?
Do the laundry? Hmmm I feel hungry, I’ll just have a bag of chips first.

Boredom
This is a popular time for cravings to surface. God forbid we have to sit with ourselves for a few minutes.

Emotional States – Comfort/Distraction
Food often gives us comfort, and when we experience intense negative feelings, we can reach for food to feel soothed. This is especially true if, as children, we were given food to calm and quiet us by well meaning caregivers.
Loneliness, Anger, Sadness, Guilt, Depression, etc., these are all states that can feel very uncomfortable. Not many of us have been taught to sit with discomfort and see ourselves through, so food becomes an instant comforter. As well as a distraction from the discomfort.

Physical States
Certain foods, like sugar, can trigger an increase in our endorphin levels, serving to boost our moods and make us feel happier. So though sugary foods may result in instant happiness, it is short lived, and fails to address the real cause of the negative feeling that we are experiencing.

Then the guilt/criticism etc. that we may feel as a result of having eaten the desired food ends up making us feel worse in the long run.

The reasons why we intensely crave certain foods at certain times are different for everyone.

What’s your reason? Here’s one way to find out:

The next time your mind prompts you to reach for the food you crave, do this : just pause. Go ahead and eat it, but just pause for a few moments before you reach for it.

In that pause, ask yourself what you’re feeling. Become aware of the reason behind the craving in that particular moment.

You may be surprised to discover every time you stop to do this that the reasons are not always the same! One time it may be sheer boredom, another time may be anxiety, and the next time you may be trying to avoid feeling sad.

See for yourself. What’s under your craving?
That’s the issue that needs addressing, should you wish to do so.


Notes on Willpower

If cravings come upon us in times of stress, when we are not feeling our best, when we are tired, how on earth are we going to summon reserves of willpower to stave off eating the very foods we think are going to bring us comfort in those times?
How sustainable is it?
How guilty/bad/ashamed/weak/etc. do we feel if we “give in”?

A study conducted by Hertfordshire University (2007) found that women who tried to stop thinking about eating chocolate ended up eating 50% more than those who actually talked about their cravings*


Trying to cut out all thoughts of your favourite, fattening food may actually make you eat more!

* Source : BBC News

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Gratitude Meditation : Start with your Body

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Often Heard and Seldom Practiced:
GRATITUDE IS THE KEY TO ABUNDANCE

We have so many things to be grateful for and so many ways in which to be grateful. This Gratitude Meditation for me is like starting at home, with the basics, with our body. I like to do this in Śavāsana after a yoga class, but you can do it at any time. It’s a great meditation to get you into a relaxed state just before you sleep. It’s very powerful to end your day with gratitude instead of the usual stressful thoughts.

You can sit or lay down to meditate. Either way, get comfortable. If you choose to sit, make sure your back is straight.

Close your eyes, and start by taking a few deep, relaxing belly breaths. Focusing on your breath will help to stay present.

After you start to feel a little more relaxed, just feel into your body. As you progress through the meditation, let your mind slowly feel it’s way to each body part.

As you scan your body, be grateful to each part. You can actually say whatever comes to your mind, naturally – the following meditation is for you to use as a guideline. Start by sending your mind towards your feet, and feel each toe. :

Thank you, my toes and my feet, for carrying my body around all day

Thank you, my ankles, for being flexible so I can walk

Thank you, my shins and calves. I send you love and thank you for your support

Thank you, my knees, for being wonderful flexible joints, and for helping me move forward. I send love from my heart to the cartilage, bones and every cell in and around you

Thank you my thighs, for helping my legs move forward

Thank you my pelvis, for protecting my organs, for being my foundation

Thank you my hips, for holding my emotions, for helping me to be active

Thank you my torso, my front and my back. Thank you my stomach for helping me to digest, thank you my lungs, for helping me to breathe. Thank you, my spine, for your constant and amazing support

Thank you my shoulders, for helping me carry my responsibilities, thank you my joints, I send loving light to every cell

Thank you my arms, for helping me to embrace my experiences

Thank you my wrists, my hands, my fingers, for helping me with simple tasks every day

Thank you, my neck, for supporting my head

Thank you my lips, mouth, nose eyes, and ears, for helping me to sense

Thank you my head, my mind, my brain, for being a part of me

Pause here, now, and take a few deep belly breaths…

Take your mind’s focus to your heart, and feel into all the loving energy that resides there. Feel the love. Give it a colour, perhaps. Now send the colour (or just the energy if you can’t feel a colour) from your heart all over your body.
Important:
If you have any injuries or disabilities, do the body scan as above. Send love to that body part instead of an emotion like anger or frustration.

Remember: Love soothes, anger inflames.



Practice
Mindfulness
Daily
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How are you Breathing?

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“Hello. How are you breathing today?”

Quality of breath = State of being

Our fast paced lives have turned us into shallow breathers. Check your breath now: how are you breathing?
Take a deep inhale all the way down to your abdomen.
Exhale all the way out.
And then do it again.

Deep breathing brings many blessings:

  • Relaxes in the body, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Improves circulation of blood and oxygen in the body (fewer wrinkles, imagine!)
  • Increases energy, physical and mental
  • Reduces fear and pain
  • Cleanses the blood of toxic stress chemicals
  • Improves power of mental concentration and observation

Breathing is managed subconsciously, which is great because that means we don’t have to remember to breathe. But know that we can send calming signals to our bodymind by taking control and consciously changing how we breathe.

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