Wellbeing Wednesday: How a Simple Breath Practice Can Aid Everything from Calm and Relaxation to Sleep and More

I love this simple breath practice. I teach this simple practice in all my yoga classes (READ MORE…) and to many clients (READ MORE…) and loved ones who sometimes wish I’d stop encouraging them to do their calming breath 🙂 I know how they feel. And I also know that it’s one of the simplest and most effective tools not out there but within ourselves).

I go into greater detail as to how to do it in today’s Facebook Live (below):

You can access other Facebook Lives and free resources HERE

Working with the breath is incredibly effective because we can always make that choice to breathe differently for a very quick improvement. With 80% of the signals via the Vagus nerve going up from body to brain, it’s far simpler, faster and more effective to change the way we feel by using our body and/or breath than by attempting to cajole ourselves into sleep, calm, joy or whatever else we’re wanting.

We’re breathing 24/7 and it’s not about suddenly judging ourselves as doing it wrong. Instead, by noticing with compassion and curiosity, we can keep our focus on the breath practice not only helping to calm our systems but also strengthening the parts of the brain that are associated with better mood, concentration, decision making, accessing our resourcefulness and relating better to others. The more we practice mindful breathing (aka conscious breathing), the easier this gets. I go into more detail about all of this in my book, 365 Ways to Feel Better: Self-care Ideas for Embodied Wellbeing (White Owl, 2017) READ MORE…

Even breathing more mindfully for a minute or two at a time will, with practice, retrain the nervous system and rewire the brain.

For today’s simple breath practice: 

  1. Start by making yourself as comfortable as you can. Feel the ground beneath your feet and the chair you’re sitting on (or whatever you’re standing or lying on)
  2. Lengthen through the spine if that feels good for you (again, this is sending signals of safety to the brain instead of sitting hunched – the way I am over my laptop as I type this blog!)
  3. Bring your awareness to your breath exactly the way it is natural
  4. Notice whether you’re breathing from the top of the lungs, the middle of the lungs or the lower lungs – as if from the belly
  5. If it feels comfortable for you, bring the breath down. As if from the belly. Notice how it feels to deepen the breath
  6. If this isn’t possible, don’t worry, simply notice the breath as it is
  7. Continue for a couple more breaths
  8. Now notice whether your inhalation is longer or your exhalation is longer (or if they’re evenly balanced)
  9. A longer exhalation is more calming as it helps activate the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. When people talk about ‘Calm down! Take a deep breath!’ if the person takes a longer inhale than exhale, they’re actually lifting the autonomic nervous system, activating the sympathetic branch which means energy, excitement (and often stress)
  10. Notice how it feels to deliberately lengthen the exhalation while continuing with the deeper breath. You might get a sense of a longer exhalation or count (eg in for one and out for two or three, in for two and out for three or four – find a ratio that feels good with your natural breath)
  11. Repeat for a minute or so
  12. Keep practicing!

As with all self-care tools, they’re practices. It’s not like a one off cure all. The more we practice, the easier it is to draw on appropriate tools when we need them most.

This breath practice is wonderful as a morning mini meditation, as a mindfulness practice at anytime during the day (I often reconnect with my deeper, calming breath when in a queue or having to stand on a bus, train or Tube), and, of course, anytime we notice that we’re feeling stressed or anxious and want to calm down quickly.

This is wonderful for insomnia, too not just because we’re activating the rest/digest branch of the nervous system that makes sleep possible, but because by reconnecting with our breath, we’re getting out of our ruminating minds and into the present moment, into our bodies in a gentle way.

Have you tried this?

You might want to journal about your results and you’re very welcome to share in the comments or email me.

And you can access other free videos and resources via my site (READ MORE…)

Big love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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