My stress management classes grew out of being a lawyer with the Illinois Governor’s Office in downtown Chicago at the same time I studied meditation and yoga. I soon found myself adapting what I knew to the office situation, exploring many quick ways to defuse stress. Over many years of practice I learned that the practices that relax are also key to finding peace.
My number one favorite go-to for stress is breathing. There are so many ways you can use your breath, even in public, to calm yourself without anyone realizing that you’re having a relaxation moment.
Most Americans breathe very shallowly and suck the stomach and solar plexus areas in on inhalation and release it on exhalation. Natural, healthy breathing involves inhaling deep into the abs and having the abs/solar plexus/diaphragm area expand as you fill with air.
Exercise: Many people find this pattern very difficult at first. To get the feeling for expanding and contracting the solar plexus area, lie flat on the floor and place a book on your solar plexus (area of rib cage, between the navel and the base of your chest). On each inhalation concentrate on pushing the book up. On each exhalation focus on lowering the book as the air goes out. Practice raising and lowering the book as you breathe until it feels easy.
Once you feel that you can inhale into your abdomen, the next step is to learn how to take a full breath. Inhale into the abdomen and feel that fullness move upward until you have inhaled all the way up to the collar bone. On exhalation, begin releasing the breath from the top level and continue releasing on down to the solar plexus. Breathe slow and long and make sure that you feel completely filled with each inhalation and that you’ve emptied all the air completely on exhalation.
Exercise: Sit comfortably, with a straight back. Tune in and note how you’re feeling. Notice the natural pattern of your breath. Then begin full breath– start counting as you inhale and make your exhalation have the same count. If you finish the inhale on the count of 8 then count at the same pace to 8 as you exhale and make sure you pace the exhalation to be finished on 8. Continue for 8-10 breaths, keeping the inhalation and the exhalation even. Then double the length of the exhalation; for instance, if you count to 6 on the inhale, make the exhale last to the count of 12. Take 8-10 more breaths with the longer exhalation. Check in again and note any change in how you feel or the pattern of your breathing.
Frequently people who are stressed also hold the breath. It’s an unconscious habit of sucking in some air and then holding it. If you become mindful of your breathing and use the full breath several times a day, you’ll start shifting out of that pattern.
Any time you feel angry or upset, stop and take some full breaths before you react or say anything. As soon as you calm down, your view of most situations will change.
Full breath is absolutely the easiest way to calm yourself. You can practice it any place any time. Only a few minutes of full breath has an incredibly relaxing effect. The counting also serves as a focusing device. so each time you stop and count you’re having a little meditation break.