Do This at Home Anytime to Reduce Stress, Especially During a Pandemic
Have you felt more stressed than usual, lately? Are you having trouble sleeping, concentrating, or relaxing? Do you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or scattered? If so, belly breathing could be exactly what you need to feel relaxed.
A study conducted in May 2020 by a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Harvard Medical School found that 55% of adults were more stressed than they had been four months earlier in January. Heightened stress reportedly was due to the effects of the pandemic, such as being worried about one’s health and the health of loved ones, financial concerns, and fear of boredom during ongoing isolation. Relatable, right?
Reports of stress and its negative effects already had been on the rise. We all experience stress in relationships, jobs, and the process of creating a life we love. Stress is part of life, and we can use it as an indicator of where we can grow, learn, and make new choices. Our goal is not to eliminate stress but to learn how to recover equilibrium and find ways to be more comfortable with uncertainty. Prolonged stress can suppress the immune system, cause disease, and lead to anxiety and depression.
With busy lives, people are looking for simple ways to relax. Reputable institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and Harvard Medical School recommend belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing. You can practice belly breathing when you are feeling stressed, to help you calm down, and also to increase your oxygen intake even if you aren’t feeling particularly stressed. Belly breathing engages more of your lung capacity, helps you remember what relaxation feels like (you might have forgotten), and resets your mind and body to be able to function at optimal levels.
How to Practice Deep Belly Breathing
- Sit in a comfortable seated position.
- Breathe normally for several breaths as you relax the muscles of your face.
- Invite the body to relax except for the muscles needed to hold you upright.
- Place one hand gently on your belly.
- Slowly inhale through the nose and expand your belly into your hand.
- Exhale slowly through the mouth and pull the belly button toward the spine to help expel all the air.
- Repeat this twice, slowing down each time.
- Return to normal breathing.
- Notice how you feel.
Work your way up to five belly breaths at a time (more, if you wish), a few times a day. Breathe slowly, steadily, and gently. Know that as you inhale and expand the belly, you are deepening your breath and stimulating the vagus nerve which induces relaxation. The long exhale also is known to be relaxing. Eventually, you won’t need to keep your hand on your belly; it’s useful to keep it there when learning the technique.
Because stress is a natural part of life, learning ways to help the body and mind relax allows us to experience more joy, boost our immunity, and feel more like ourselves even in challenging circumstances.
Join Heidi Spear and Sudha Carolyn Lundeen for a four-week course called “Training in Meditation and Stress-Reduction Techniques” beginning March 23, 2021. Click the link for more information and to register. https://bit.ly/3qZ9tZQ
Heidi Spear, MA, ABD, is an author, workshop presenter, Reiki master, and Kripalu-trained yoga and meditation teacher who has been on the Kripalu R&R faculty since 2008. Heidi served as the Relaxation Specialist at The UltraWellness Center and has taught meditation and creative workshops to individuals and groups of more than 600 people at retreat centers and businesses across the country, including for tech companies in Silicon Valley, and abroad.
Heidi holds master’s degrees in comparative literature and performing arts from New York University and Washington University in St. Louis, and she has worked and studied at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Her latest books published by Simon & Schuster are My Pocket Chakra Healing and Ayurveda Made Easy; she has been featured online in publications such as Yoga Journal and MindBodyGreen; and her popular meditation CD, Universe, is available for download. For more information and to sign up for her newsletter please visit www.HeidiSpear.com
Sudha Lundeen has been working in the Healing Arts for over 30 years as Registered Nurse, Meditation and Stress Management Specialist, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Coach, workshop leader, Yoga Teacher Trainer and Yoga Therapist. She works with patients to create a personalized stress management plan. Sudha’s personal experience with breast cancer combined with 10 years in clinical nursing lends a sensitivity and broad knowledge base to her teaching style that is described as welcoming, humorous and healing.