I am creating a major transition in my life. As a result, I am attending as many yoga classes as possible to keep me balanced physically, mentally and emotionally. Last night as I sat on my mat talking with another student, I realized I was holding my breath – again. This is a pattern in my life when I experience stress – the source of that stress is insignificant. I fixed my first cup of coffee this morning and went back to bed with the newspaper. As I read, I realized I was holding my breath. Rats!
Welcome to the human race, Catherine Ann.
It is a very common reaction to life, especially when in transition. Shortening or holding the breath sets off one of our survival mechanisms. The brain signals the nervous system for more oxygen. The nervous system signals the adrenals to fire which kicks everything into a higher gear so that a breath is taken. The drawback is that I don’t need more adrenalin in my body during this transition; I need calming body chemicals to be higher so that I can make decisions and sleep at night.
The problem usually reveals the answer. If I am shortening and holding my breath, the answer is to be more aware of my breath so that I can guide it. My off-the-mat practice becomes mindful breathing. As I walk from room to room or sit at a red light, I soften my belly and rib cage and expand my breath. On each exhale I soften my shoulders, letting them fall away from my ears. I also soften my jaw so that energy can flow easily into my head, bringing oxygen-rich blood to my brain. My entire body begins to soften and my breath can return to a normal rhythm.
Try this: Sit with a lifting spine and bring your awareness to the upper abdomen, at the base of your rib cage. Soften your belly, the lower abdomen, and take a slow inhale. As you inhale, let your soft belly balloon out and soften your ribs. Feel your ribs expand out to the sides. Pause for one or two seconds and slowly release the breath, feeling all of these areas melt into the center of the body. Repeat for four more breaths and then return to normal breathing and notice how you feel.
With a little practice, you will notice your body responding as soon as your awareness goes to the belly. You will be able to return to a balanced, flowing breath in less than a minute. During this transition, I am having to be more mindful than usual but I am also experiencing the benefits of this mindful breath practice. At night, I lay on my back and place my hands softly on my belly. I do three expanded breaths and then release into a soft, quiet breath until I fall asleep.
So, dear readers, just breathe. Namaste.