Episode #3 of the course Mindfulness: Self-care for daily life by Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura
Yesterday, I encouraged you to set one simple, concrete goal for taking care of yourself. I hope you followed through and experienced the relaxation and rewards of self-care for your body, mind, and spirit.
Today, we’re going to focus on the simple foundation of life: your breath.
It’s easy to take breathing for granted. Without any effort or thought on your part, your autonomic nervous system controls and regulates your breath . As long as you are breathing, you are alive, and barring catastrophic illness or injury, your body keeps breathing to keep you alive.
But the breath is unique as a function of the autonomic nervous system, because you can also exert voluntary control. In fact, research indicates that when we purposefully control the breath, our efforts can have profound effects on our bodies and our minds. For instance, research on pranayama—the yogic practice of controlled breathing—has found that deliberate control of the body can lead to physiological changes, such as decreased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and increased theta waves in the brain . What this means is that purposefully calming and slowing your breath actually triggers the nervous system to slow and calm the rest of your body.
Generally, naturally, when we’re stressed, we breathe in a shallow, fast manner, and when we’re relaxed, our breath is more likely to be slower and deeper. For instance, picture a sleeping baby and the gentle natural flow of their tummy up and down in deep, relaxed, peaceful sleep. Other research has shown that when we are stressed, purposeful diaphragmatic breathing can interrupt the mechanisms of stress in our bodies and help us calm down . If you’d like to read more about how your breath can change your physiological and psychological state, you can find links for further reading at the end of this lesson.
Now, let’s shift from theory to practice.
Come into a comfortable position; ideally, lie down on your back on a comfortable yet firm surface—I want you relaxed, but still awake. Use pillows and bolsters as needed to support your head and legs.
Place your hands on your stomach and close your eyes.
At first, just observe your breath. Notice how it feels as you inhale in and out. What happens to your hands as you breathe?
Now, I want you to remember that baby sleeping. Think about how the baby’s tummy rises when they inhale and falls when they exhale. That’s normal, natural deep breathing, but as we grow older and get concerned about having slim mid-sections, we tend to keep our guts sucked in, and that restricts the natural flow of breathing. Let go of your self-consciousness and your years of holding in your stomach, and become that relaxed little one.
As you inhale, let your stomach soften, expand, and rise, as your lungs fill into the full capacity of your torso. Your hands on your stomach will gently rise toward the ceiling.
As you exhale, your stomach will naturally contract as the air leaves your lungs, creating space in your torso. Your hands will gently drop toward your spine.
Keep your eyes closed. Breathe in and out through your nose, slowly, gently, and deliberately.
As you inhale, your stomach expands and your hands rise. As you exhale, your stomach contracts and your hands drop.
Breathe and relax. Stay with it at least 5 minutes, but try to do it for 10 or 20 minutes, if you can make the time. Notice how your mind quiets, how your shoulders soften, and how changing your breath begins to change your body.
Your Breathing Goal
Try it before bedtime to help you settle down and sleep better. Try it when you’re angry and need to calm down or when you’re worried and need to find courage. From now on, whenever stressed, worried, anxious, or tired: Just Breathe.
Next, we’ll try two specialized breathing strategies that offer even greater potential to help you control your emotions and take good care of yourself.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: The Antidote to Stress!
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises and Your Vagus Nerve
 The Autonomic Nervous System and Breathing
 Physiology of Long Pranayamic Breathing
 Effect of Slow Abdominal Breathing Combined with Biofeedback on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Variability in Prehypertension
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