Our level of tension is usually reflected in our breathing. When stressed breathing tends to become more rapid and shallow, and primarily located in the upper chest. Under too much stress the tendency might also be to over breathe, sigh or hyperventilate.
When we are relaxed breathing tends to be slower and deeper, and should include more movement in the rib cage and the diaphragm.
Breathing is one of the easiest things to be aware of and to change. Noticing breathing helps us to notice the symptoms of stress early, so we can take a moment to pause and relax. The connection between breathing, stress and tension is two way. In the same way stress can have a negative effect on our breathing, so too can adjusting our breathing have a positive influence on stress.
Tip: Here is a simple breathing exercise you can try anywhere, sitting, standing or lying down. You can also decide whether to have your eyes open or closed.
- Rest both hands on the upper part of your chest. Allow your lungs to empty with an out breath, and then breathe in slowly through the nose, without forcing it, and notice the rise and fall of your hands as you breathe. Repeat this between 5 and10 times.
- Rest both hands on your rib cage below your chest with the finger tips of your middle fingers just touching when your lungs are empty. Breathe in slowly and feel your fingers parting as you rib cage expands outward. Repeat between 5 and 10 times.
- Rest your hands on your belly at navel level, middle finger tips touching. This time as you slowly breathe in fill your whole abdomen with breath, feeling your fingers parting and your hands rising slightly towards your chest. Again repeat between 5 and 10 times.
- Finally just rest your hands gently in your lap, or at your sides and take a few moments to be aware of your breathing now. Make sure your shoulders and neck are relaxed. Make a little stretch before resuming your normal daily activities.
Tip: Record your mood in an exercise book before and after doing the breathing exercise. The four most common moods are Activity and Calm at the positive end, and Anxiety and Melancholy at the negative end. See if you notice a pattern over time.
So take a break, take a breath - instead of reaching for caffeine, tobacco or chocolate. And as your breath becomes more relaxed and centred so your whole being can feel the same.
After many years as a facilitator Michael has come to value the practice of Mindfulness as the core of healthy living.
“Paying attention to moment to moment experience without judgement or self-criticism enables you to become more aware of the conflicting forces within your mind. This awareness enables you to access your strong inner core: the place of inner wisdom, wellbeing and happiness. Becoming aware of our habits of thought and action is the first step toward self-transformation.”
Of course he still draws on all his experience as a humanistic psychologist who has worked widely in organisations and with individuals. See www.globalresonance.com
Michael's forthcoming teaching dates for Skyros:
6 – 19 June: Mindful Living, Atsitsa Bay, Greece
29 Aug – 11 Sept: The Path of Happiness, Skyros Centre, Greece
12 – 25 September: Mindful Living, Atsitsa Bay, Greece
14 – 27 December: The Path of Happiness, Koh Chang, Thailand
14 – 23 January 2011: On the Exploration Path, Thailand & Cambodia