Ahhh… the breath. What an incredible barometer for understanding what’s happening in the mind, the nervous system and the body. Whatever’s happening in the other layers of our being will show up in the breath, guaranteed. What’s really awesome aboutthe breath is that it’s an automatic process, AND, we can intentionally modify it to influence our physiology. I want to give you a couple of tools to help you influence your nervous system and your state of mind. They’re both breathing exercises (pranayamas). One helps to up-regulate the nervous system. Stimulating your nervous system can be useful when you’re experiencing depression, dullness, or lethargy. The second down-regulates the nervous system, which is helpful when you’re experiencing anxiety or distraction, or are having trouble concentrating. Both exercises take only a few minutes, and can be done anywhere. If you find yourself in a social environment, where it doesn’t feel comfortable to do these practices, take a few moments to excuse yourself and find a more private place.
ARM SWINGS – UP-REGULATING
This pranayama is great for discharging a stress response (fight/flight/freeze/submit), gets the heart and blood pumping, increases lymph movement, and, in general, invigorates the body and mind.
Stand with your feet hip width, knees soft, and arms relaxed on each side. Begin swinging your arms, freely, forward and back, crossing the wrists and lower arms in front of your body. Inhale through your nose as your arms swing back, and exhale through your nose as your arms come front. Let the swings be loose. Do this for a few minutes. Then, let the arms, naturally, come to stillness by your sides. Close your eyes and notice the effects of the practice.
PRESSURE CHAMBER BREATH – DOWN-REGULATING
This is a pranayama that helps us to adapt to the external pressures of society, community, family and partnership, as well as the expectations we have of ourselves. This breathing exercise intentionally creates more pressure in the thoracic and abdominal cavities, and resets the diaphragm. It’s incredibly effective at calming the nervous system, and it lowers blood pressure and heart rate … all good things when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
Begin by sitting tall, with your eyes closed and your palms on your head. Interlace your fingers and let your elbows bend to each side. Inhale, slowly, through your nose. Hold your breath and draw the low belly, in, towards your spine. This action will increase the pressure in your trunk and chest. Remain here as long as you can without strain. Exhale slowly, through your nose, while moving your hands down towards your lap. Take a normal breath, both in and out, before your next repetition. Repeat the movement a total of 5-10 times, or as much as you need.