Use Your Breathing to De-Stress and Re-Center
Feb. 24, 2012
In my work as a therapist, I often initially see people when they are under maximum stress. The first time a person comes in, they have usually procrastinated calling a therapist for some time, for as long as they could manage to. By the time I see them on the first visit, their stress levels are very, very high. To quickly reduce the experience of being stressed I teach them to re-boot the mind and body with a practice from India known as pranayama (yogic breathing technique) When the breathe is calmed and settled the mind also follows.
We all have an experiential understanding of stress. But let’s take a closer look at the many changes that go on in the body under stress. Changes in the pattern of breathing occur consistently among distressed people. The breath becomes either shallow or fast or both. It might even feel locked up and choppy. In fact this single element, change in the breathing pattern, is so powerful, that when it occurs, it sets off a cascade of other reactions, which are collectively known as the flight or fight or freeze response.
Using The Practice of Triangle Breathing to Reboot the Mind and Body
The practice of Triangle Breathing turns this cascade around by bringing our attention to the diaphragm muscle at the base of the lungs. The networks of nerves in the diaphragm register the patterns of breath and send this information to the brain. The brain automatically interprets this information and determines our current level of danger, it automatically decides how alert we need to be at the moment, how on-guard. So when the brain registers a distressed breathing pattern, the entire body-mind stress response fires itself up for action. Trouble is, it may not be time for action, you may be trying to sleep or enjoy some time with your family / friends/pets.
To re-boot your mind body system at a time like this, the triangle breathing pranayama very effective. It works to reduce stress by deactivating the alarm system of the mind/body system. It overrides the alarm reaction by sending a powerful positive message of safety to the entire mind and body. This powerful tool can release the constriction you feel after perceiving an experience as dangerous and stressful. When it’s time to move on, take a moment to get centered!
Triangle Breathing Practice Instructions
The way of this practice is to make the pattern of breathing become steady and long. To accomplish this we create a 3 part breath (inhalation, hold in, & exhalation). In this practice, we strive to make the three parts of the breath equal in length. In this practice we imagine the structure of the breath to be an upside down equilateral triangle. It has 3 equal sides, a flat top that represents the held in breath and a point at the bottom to indicate that there is not hold in the breath after the exhalation.
First thing we’ll need to do to find out how long our breath usually is. Just take a simple baseline by exhaling fully, then, while inhaling slowly count until your lungs are full. Then hold your breath inside for the same length, and for the same length exhale, with a controlled exhalation.
What was your baseline inhalation? Do you need to adjust because you cannot either hold or exhale for that long? Make an adjustment in the size of your starting triangle that will be easy for you to accomplish. For many people the beginning baseline is between 4 and 6, which will fuel the stress cascade.
To stop the stress reaction, the goal of the pranayama is to slowly increase the size of the triangle. Just attempt increases one number at a time, and when you reach point where it is too difficult to either inhale, hold or exhale for that length....just back off to a breath length that is more comfortable for you. If you practice to your point of comfort you will slowly begin to increase your ability. Most of the time we do not even breathe as deeply as we are capable of, so bringing your time and awareness to the practice will give your rapid improvement.
Even a little bit of this practice will increase your ability to handle stress smoothly and improve your mental and physical health. Three to five minutes of practice is the minimum I would recommend for resetting the system… but even with just these few minutes of work on your breathing pattern (pranayama) You will notice some changes and relaxation.
Benefits of Triangle Breathing Pranayama:
Working with your breath will reduce stress and increase happiness. You will discover the wonderful differences deeper breathing will make in your quality of life. When the breath develops qualities of evenness and length from consistent practice it provides ease to the body and brings rest to the mind allowing one to enter into a steady, calm, aware state, fully immersed and living in the present moment. You will notice little side benefits here and there like being able to swim along time underwater, and run without getting winded. Additionally, you will certainly gain more emotional self control…either in controlling your temper or in expressing yourself more clearly and easily. Perhaps with increased awareness and a way to address that restless feeling you might break some other habits or pattern you’ve had but which hasn’t been serving you.
Deeper breathing will also make life easier on your heart and lungs, since they will not have to work as hard, they can learn to be restful. You might like being able to think more clearly with more oxygen getting to the brain. In fact, all the parts of your body will have a little less wear and tear when you have improved your awareness of your breathing and the length of your breath. The triangle breathing pranayama is an excellent method to achieve these milestones on your way to being healthy and contented in life.
Artwork created by B. Love 2012.