Breathing techniques to help reduce stress

Have you ever thought of using the power of breath to help reduce stress?

There are ways you can start using the power of your breath to fight off those stressful thoughts and feelings.

It may sound a bit too simple to be true, but I have had many experiences in life where I have used the ‘simple’ act to stay in tune with more positive thoughts and the present moment. There are many advantages to living a life led by breath, rather than thoughts. Without breath, there would be no life and that is a great reminder to practice tuning into the power of breathing.

The core of all meditation techniques, especially Pranayama revolve around breathing awareness. Pranayama is a yogic tradition where ancient texts spoke of using the in and out breath to calm our minds and I will be mentioning a few of these techniques below.

Many ancient languages use just one word to describe both the breath and spirit; the Greek word ‘pneuma’ and Latin word ‘spiritus’ helped the creation of the English words ‘respiration’ and ‘spirit’.

Begin this technique by sitting in a comfy chair or lying in bed. Keeping your hands on your stomach can also help you ease into the practice.

Here are a few techniques to get you more in tune with your breath and start to use these ancient techniques:

Breathe Deep

As I’ve mentioned in my past post ‘Ten ways to deal with stress‘, breathing from deep down in your stomach or from your diaphragm is a great place to start tuning into your breath.

Practice by exhaling fully, to the point where you can feel your lungs fully deflate. Then hold your breath for a slow and steady count of three. Whilst holding your breath here, your diaphragm muscles are active and contracting. Then you can release the breath deeply and slowly.

Continue this method as many times as you wish to find rhythm and calm. You should feel a rush of relaxation and gratitude flood over you as you learn to appreciate the art of breathing calmly.

Taking turns: “Nadhi Shuddhi”

This technique involves using alternative nostril breathing. Try to do it as slow and meticulous as possible, this, in turn, will help with decreasing your stress levels. Try to do 4-5 on each side before moving onto another breathing technique or meditation.

It’s as simple as holding your thumb over right nostril, and inhale only from the left nostril and exhale, then swap and do the same on the other side.

Keep it interesting by breathing in from your left nostril and exhaling from the right, then swapping back and forth.

Huff and Puff – ‘Kapalabhabti’

This one may feel a bit strange the first few times around.

Start by taking in a long and slow inhale, and follow it up with a powerful, quick exhale. This is great for mornings and works as a little internal abb workout.

This can help you get prepared for an interview or stressful morning you have ahead; warming up your respiratory system.

A couple techniques we missed:

Singing: Try holding a note for an extended period of time or to empty out your lungs. Singing can help you to see shortness in breath and find a rhythm.

Yoga: There are some great yoga teachers out there who help you with breathing technique whilst staying in touch with your body – a great pair we say!

These are a few great breathing techniques you can try every day. It’s a fantastic way to lead onto more into other practices such as meditation and yoga that use this as an initial practice to lead to mindfulness practice.

Tune into your body and the present moment… letting those worries pass in and out just like your breath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding Mindfulness – first simple steps

How can you find mindfulness is the hustle and bustle of a busy world… and busy mind?

When we are living in a 9-5 world, it can more often than not be challenging to find ‘quiet time’ in our days and ultimately find room to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness defined by dictionary.com is ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique’

And it’s what is says on the label.  Ultimately the goal is to live in the present moment, letting thoughts pass by like the clouds in the sky and knowing that we can’t control our thoughts, but we can accept them and this, in turn, can help us change our perspective on them.

Here are a few ways to practice the art of mindfulness:

Finding the Silence

If you practice meditation you may see mindfulness as a great reminder to stop thinking about the past and the future, and instead, focus on what’s happening now. Therefore finding silence in the present, without stopping by our past or future events.

Our minds wonder into our own virtual realities, ones that are too often full of thoughts and feelings that are created by the over thinking mind.

If we were to stop and realise that many thoughts are just a creation of our sub-conscious minds, we would know that there is room to find silence and peace; and that is by turning our awareness to the present moment and being mindful of our thoughts. We look to find the silence in between them and extend this into our daily lives.

Start by opening all your senses to everything around you – especially your ears. This can be done through meditation practice. Let the ‘noise’ in and accept it, without using your thinking mind, and your own version of silence will soon follow. This can be quite tricky the first few times around, but practice makes perfect!

Try this free meditation app today. Try the ‘Mindfulness’ category – it’s worked wonders for me!

Don’t be afraid of your thoughts

Being mindful when you first practice it can be daunting. We can often feel more overwhelmed when we are left with our thoughts. So another great place to start is by accepting your thoughts – even the bad ones.

Have you ever had a thought that is so bad that you’re left wondering ‘Did I really say that?’ The fact of the matter is, no you didn’t say it unless you did actually say it out loud, instead its just a thought, and our mind can think of one situation in a thousand different ways.

So the next time you have a bad thought, one of doubt or mischief, accept it, especially when you are practising the art of silence and mindfulness, and instead let it fade away with your breath. Become at one with the ebb and flow of life… Without bad thoughts, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish those great encouraging and loving ones. This way you can find peace in any thought, or any situation.

Become at one with the ebb and flow of life… Without bad thoughts, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish those great encouraging and loving ones. This way, in time, you can find peace in any thought or any situation.

Be with nature

“The earth has its music for those who will listen” – George Santayana

This is just one saying that comes to mind when thinking about nature. That source of energy that has been around since the dawn of time but is often put aside for more modern things such as our mobile phones.

We are not saying all modern things are bad, but they can be seen as a negative when it comes to mindfulness practice; they are a great distraction from the present moment. Social Media sites have helped us build up a bank of negative thoughts and connotations. Creating a, quite frankly, judging mind and one that likes to compare ourselves to others.

Nature has no competition – it has curves, designs and sounds that cannot be compared to. Ones that inspire the greatest artists in history, not just in paintings and drawings, but architecture and music.

You can find this beauty and the music of nature by sitting in your local park, taking a stroll at the beach on the weekend or even going for a morning jog. Put down the headphones and the mobile and listen to the sounds of nature. This can really help open up all of your senses.

Watch the wind flow through the greenery and take it as a reminder of how our minds work and how thoughts should be no prediction of the future or manipulation of the past – instead just pure natural bliss… just like ourselves.

 

If you would like more advice on mental health and mindfulness, don’t forget to follow my blog for frequent updates on discovering the mind, body & soul.

 

 

 

YouTube Yoga Revolution – 10 days in

You may not have heard about this great Yoga channel on YouTube, run by the lovely Adrienne Mishler from Texas. Here’s my review of the last ten days.

Adrienne is an experienced yoga teacher, actress and the voice of some of DC Comic’s online characters. Here’s a little bit about how it works and what I’ve learnt so far.

How does it work?

Adrienne has taken the time to create a ‘Yoga Revolution’ playlist that runs for 31 days. You can do it one day at a time, or if you are busy, you can do it every other day – the fact that you are putting in the effort to practice the art of yoga is the main objective. Also bringing a personal goal i.e to increase flexibility or to tune into the present moment can really help with motivation.

What’s it like so far?

I’m surprised to say that I’ve reached day 10 of Yoga Revolution and I have never felt more in control of my own body. Starting at day 1 I felt a little weary as many other first-time yoga practitioners have felt too.

You often think of yoga as a type of slow exercise that uses a hell of a lot of ‘tricky’ moves. The key to start is to dive in with an open mind – don’t expect that you’ll be able to do a perfect head stand in the next month or that you’ll be able to stretch your leg over your head. These types of thoughts can push you away from even trying to give it a go… and I really believe everyone should try it at least just once.

Here’s a little list of the benefits I’ve seen so far for my body and also my mental well-being:

Breathing easier

What many people may not realise is that stretching certain areas in your body can actually make tight chests seem less like you’re being squeezed by an unseen force. When I first started I was at a very stressful place in my life and came in with frantic short breathing, although this was quite normal to me at the time.

By practising moves that involved twisting my back and neck in ways I had never done before; I felt the release of tension in my chest. Adrienne loves to remind viewers of her videos to open your chest and lead with your heart. This has stuck with me as a great reminder to breathe more openly and less restricted. I’m still a work in progress, but change is better than no change at all.

Flexibility

I used to do ballet for about four years when I was younger and always thought I was a fairly flexible person, and I was wrong. It took me a few attempts to master even the basic ‘downward dog move’, and I still can’t place my feet perfectly on the floor!

But there’s nothing wrong with this. Adrienne reminds us that every persons’ body is different, and well, simply put, not all bodies and shapes will be able to do this – but that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

I’ve gotten better at this move and many others, seeming to stretch my body more and more with each 20 – 30-minute daily practice. I can touch my knee with my chest without effort, lift my leg up in a straight line for an extended period of time and much more. This may not seem like a big step, but it really is in my mind. Sitting at a desk all day can definitely tighten things up a bit…

Downward Dog
Just Breathe | Downward Dog | Adrienne’s Yoga Revolution day 10 update

Just like meditation, yoga has its perks when it comes to thinking more positively. Personally, I watch Adrienne’s videos every morning; it’s literally the first thing I do, after popping to the loo of course (giggles).

This way I come into the practice with an open mind and it helps to clear out any negative thoughts from dreams and of course my achy back from a slightly old mattress. I’ve learnt to focus on my breathing and the present moment more.

I’ve also learnt that yoga takes quite a bit of concentration as moves flow from one to the other and there shouldn’t be any ‘harsh’ movements at all – just like a tree and its moving leaves. I’m not perfect at moving gracefully, but in comparison to day 1 – 3, I have definitely slowed down quite a bit, and I hope to get even better at this. It’s the perfect practice for impatience and busy minds.

These are just a few benefits I have seen so far from Yoga Revolution and I’m truly looking forward to the next 21 days… Hopefully, by the end, I will be hyped up for even more yoga sessions which I’m sure I will be.

Here’s where you can find Adrienne’s Yoga Revolution playlist – It’s completely free which makes the whole thing that much sweeter…

Take a read of what others think:

“I never did something like this before and it completely changes my way of self-awareness. Thank you very much for this inspiration!” – Joanne

“Hi Adriene, I would like to thank you so much for your videos and daily good vibrations that you have brought to my life since I have started the Yoga Revolution 2017. I was so touched yesterday to see how efficient the practice is after only one month, how that makes me feel good and how much I learned thanks to you. Well, I just wanted to say thank you, thank you, thank you Adriene, I feel so grateful for your work. Take care and namaste <3” – France

“I have always wanted to get into yoga, but was always way too intimidated to do group lessons, and could never really find a video that eases into a practice. I stumbled upon your Yoga Revolution video series, and let me tell ya, they are AWESOME!!! You are very encouraging and it is sometimes freaky how you sometimes just know how I am feeling on a day. For instance, I was feeling a little moody/angry before the Light practice, and you touched on that. *Freaky, but awesome!*”

Let me know if you’ve also tried this playlist- I would love to find out your results and what you think. Also feel free to ask any questions if you are looking to give it a try.

 

10 Ways To Deal With Stress

Are you struggling with stress in your everyday life?

Sometimes we need more than a pat on the shoulder from a close friend, family member or colleague to get through those stressful times. But what about those sudden emotional attacks that send clear signals to our brain that something isn’t right, you just don’t feel the same as you did a couple of hours ago, last night or even the other week.

Stress is linked to a number of other conditions including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks – for some this is just a normal part of everyday life. For others, it can lead to major mental health issues such as self-harm and even suicide.

According to a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation; in England and Wales, suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged between 20-49 years.

And that’s why it’s so important to take action and real steps in order to deal with signs as soon as you see them or to help others who are dealing with stress.

Here are ten things you can do to start coping with your stress:

1) Meditate. Meditate. Meditate

the copra center

Photo credit: The Copra Center

I can vouch for this one myself being a daily practitioner of meditation. This enlightening practice that originated in Hindu traditions at around 1500 BCE can help you to clear your mind.

Although it’s not as simple you may think; it’s not as easy as just sitting there in silence. Many meditators will remember the first time they sat sitting completely still as it’s found that can actually heighten our stress levels the first few times! Our busy minds simply can’t easily be put to rest…

A great place to start is by vouching to practice for just ten minutes a day. As long as you show up and dedicate this time in your day, it can truly help to quieten those battling thoughts in your head and let you see things more clearly. Why not give it a go? It may be your blessing in disguise.

Check out this great free meditation app

2) Breathe in that fresh air

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You may think, is that not what we’re all doing, literally all the time? You may be wrong, many of us experiencing stress can feel short of breath, like you’re hanging on for dear life, and others can simply have difficulty breathing smoothly and consistently. They may have long pauses between breaths simply because of the overwhelming amount of worrying thoughts.

Everyone experiences stress in a different way, but problems with breathing are a common factor. If you experience shortness of breath or breathing difficulties it could be a great idea to simply take a walk around your local park, sit outside reading a book or go somewhere quiet where you will feel secure whilst focusing on your breathing more attentively. 

Once you’re in a quiet space you may be able to spot abnormalities in the way you breathe. If you are breathing from your chest rather than the bottom of your stomach or diaphragm, this could be a good place to start. Many have said that breathing from the pit of your stomach can bring a natural stress relief. A good way to check is by checking how much your shoulders rise when you breathe if they rise quite a bit and your chest sticks out this could be a sign that your breath is only reaching half of your respiratory system. It’s not as bad as it sounds though, promise!

3) Prepare for what you know

thought catalogue

Photo Credit: Thought Catalogue

If you know that you have an important meeting at 8 am tomorrow or have a flight to catch, nothing is more daunting than setting off for your day when you’re not prepared. Just like people advice before the day of an interview, you can take the simple step of laying out your clothes, getting lunches ready for the kids or simply getting up when your alarm goes off!

This way you’ll start your day knowing full well what you need to do and what is important, and the rest of the day will be more enjoyable.

4) Positive phrases

good net.org.jpg

Photo credit: Goodnet.org

This one may sound too simple, but from personal experiences, I can say that it truly works wonders. A recent study by the Journal of Advanced Nursing states that repeating positive phrases with spiritual meanings have helped people cope with a wide range of problems including stress and anxiety.

It can be as easy as picking a positive phrase that resonates with you. My favourite is ‘Open heart, open Mind’ – this helps me to remind myself that I am open to expressing and receiving love from others, even strangers, and sometimes even enemies! As well as reminding me not to judge others at all, as everyone is unique for a reason.

Start by thinking of a phrase that comes from your childhood, maybe something as simple as ‘Keep it up’, or something more spiritual or religious such as your favourite quote from the Bible or a mantra.

5) Budgeting

the knot

Photo credit: The Knot

Many of us struggling with keeping tabs on where we spend our money. Dealing with stress, especially financial struggle can be helped by simply budgeting. If writing down expenses and incomings for you is a bit too daunting, how about using a free online budget planner to make it a bit easier.

Additionally, you can set calendar reminders or notes on your phone which will prompt you to prepare for one-off spending for birthdays, Christmas or that wedding your cousins been planning for a while.

6) Get those tunes out

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Photo Credit: The Indian Express

We can often forget how much music means to us; people from all cultures and all walks of life share a love of music, and have done so for centuries.

Plugging in your headphones or turning on the radio to that station you haven’t listen to for a while can bring great rushes of joy, even if you just listen to a few tracks on the way to work or picking up the kids.

Many studies have come to the conclusion that music is directly attached to our emotions, especially slow classical music, nature sounds and other ‘chill’ tunes.

A scientific study looked into these relaxing types of music and how they affected our stress levels. The alpha-amylase levels (which are in our body to help kill unwanted bacteria and break down our food) quickly returned to normal after participants listened to nature sounds and slow classical music, inevitably taking their bodies out of stress mode.

This can be a quick and productive way of relieving stress on the go, or in times when you are alone.

7) Put the phone down!

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For many of us living in this tech-savvy era will find it hard to put down our phones, iPads, laptops and other devices. With 95% of Americans now owning a cell phone of some sorts, according to Pew Research Centre’s study, it may be easier said than done.

If you need to use your phone quite frequently due to work or for appointments, it may not be that easy – but what about when you get home? Do you really need to check Facebook or Twitter about ten times? You can start by limiting internet use at home to 30 minutes a day or one hour – this way you can fit in all you need to do in that time, and then put the device away in a draw.

It may be easier said than done, but many people have said that they have found more time to spend with their family, pets and loved ones, in person, after reducing their amount of digital time. This, in turn, has reduced stress levels.

Using social networking sites such as Instagram can take a really big toll on many young women and men who sometimes unintentionally compare themselves to celebrities. Just remember, there’s probably someone out there who wants what you have, just like you want what they have – so don’t stop being you!

8) See to your spine

food ndtv

Photo Credit: Food NDTV

We can often forget that our spine is not only there to keep us upright, it also protects our spinal chord and nerves which connect to all other parts of the body. Therefore a tight or achy back can take an emotional toll on your body and brain, causing stress without you even realizing.

How can you tackle this? If you’ve been sitting slumped at your desk all day or been driving from place to place, it’s a great idea to add a stretch in here and there to relieve the pressure in your back.

Start with something as easy as ‘child’s pose’ which is a common yoga move. Neel on the ground with your hips touching your feet and lean completely forward so that your forehead is touching the ground, then press your thighs back to elongate your spine and push down and out with your fingers and arms. This a fantastic stretch that can relieve both lower and upper back pain, helping to relieve stress and tension.

You can take this a step further by practicing yoga – See Adrienne’s channel on YouTube for yoga for all abilities.

9) Don’t take things too seriously

science news

Photo Credit: Science News

Those of us who suffer from stress and even anxiety, especially social anxiety, can often feel these worries heightened when doing something as simple as walking into a room of people or introducing themselves to new people. It’s because of the worry in our minds – are they looking at me? What do they think of me? and the questions go on.

A simple way of dealing with this form of stress is by simply not taking things too seriously. Take Dr. Pepper’s advice and think ‘What’s the worst that can happen’. You may fall flat on your face, but we guarantee many people have done it before you, and you won’t be the last.

Therefore look at things with a bit more humor, laugh at yourself when you make mistakes instead of beating yourself down.

10) Think about the good things

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Photo Credit: Klejonka

It’s easy to get caught in the web of negative thinking – Why did I do that? Could I have not said it a bit differently? A lot of these thoughts can be attached to past experiences that cannot help us in any way now, maybe they’ve taught us a lesson or two, but that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

Instead, take time every evening or after work to think about at least one thing that felt good today or that went well. If you can’t think of anything this could be a sign you are wrapped up in these thoughts too much. Therefore simply realizing you’re thinking this way and actively stopping your train of thought and focusing on something you did well can help initially.

Something as simple as making a cup of tea for a coworker or complimenting someone can be your good deed of the day. Start there and the positive thoughts should keep on coming…

So why not give it go? If you suffer from stress just like me, it can be easier said than done. But everything happens one step at a time… maybe start with slow and steady breathing and progress from there.

Discovering the Mind, Body & Soul

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