s not an automatic nervous system response,
We need to consciously cultivate and nurture calm from within. I would suggest that t
he number one way to cultivate calm is
practice of a full breath
A full breath makes our lungs work to their capacity, naturally stretches the rib cage and related tissues, massages our organs, and ensures that with each inhale we take in a big dose of nourishing oxygen that is vital to our cellular health.
When we are in the heat of the moment of stress, it is easy to forget to breathe fully. Often we get stuck taking in little air and, rather than using our diaphragm muscle, we activate neck and other muscles that are not designed for breathing.
This is called a shallow breath and is why many of us develop tight upper chests, shoulders and necks.
Also, shallow breathing holds us in stressed fight, flight or freeze mode rather than helping us to dial down our reactivity.
The simple exercise below can help you learn how to breathe fully and deeply and to use your breathing to activate and nurture inner calm:
Sit comfortably on a firm chair, perhaps with a pillow to support your back.
Knees are bent at 90 degrees.
Arms are hanging loosely down at your sides. Tuck your chin down slightly.
Imagine that a string is pulling the top of your head up to the sky.
This exercise is most effective with your eyes closed. In time, however, you can practice with your eyes open, too.
2. Now, inhale slowly and allow oxygen to fill your lower lungs, then your middle lungs, then your upper lungs.
Filling the upper lungs is particularly important, because that is how your upper chest gets its needed stretch.
Allow your upper chest to push out as far as it can in all directions.
Notice that as your upper lungs fill up, your shoulders will naturally roll backwards.
This encourages healthy upper back posture.
3. When your breath finishes filling your upper chest, pause
for 1-2 seconds before exhaling.
llow your exhale to be slower than the inhale. Release the air from your upper lungs first, then your middle lungs, and your lower lungs last.
Note: The slow speed of the exhale is especially key, as this activates the rest, relax and restore parasympathetic nervous system response,
dialing down nervousness or anxiety and encouraging calm and peace.
4. Pause 1-2 seconds before inhaling again.
5. As you continue breathing slowly and fully, allow the softness of calm to wash through every cell of your body. Notice tension unwind and your body becoming lighter. Feel the pace of your mind begin to slow....
I invite you to practice this exercise regularly for 5 minutes, then 10, then longer. Every morning and night is a great start and certainly anytime you feel anxious about anything. You could consider recording this exercise as a voice memo on your cell phone so that you have the instructions ready at hand wherever you go.
Once you have the mechanics down, you can practice breathing fully anywhere you are and while performing any activity, such as brushing your teeth, listening to music, reading, cycling, walking the dog, binge watching a TV series, laying in bed just before sleep.
Always keep your eyes open and attentive when driving, of course....
Eventually, breathing fully will begin to feel natural and you will notice how you more easily access and carry calm within as you manage the tough times as well as the good.
Trust that you are capable of great resilience and help yourself to be and live that resilience daily by simply taking a fuller breath.
I am not afraid of storms,
for I'm learning to sail my ship.
--Louisa May Alcott
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