When stress or anxious thoughts arise, our breathing can feel tight, shallow, and uncomfortable. It's a common feeling and a sign that we need to pause and take care of ourselves.
Breathing well allows us to enjoy clarity, steady emotions, and calm. Breathing keeps us grounded.
Here is a short sequence that keeps stress at bay and enables us to breathe through tricky times. It takes 15 minutes and you can easily do it at home. It works by creating space for the organs of the respiratory system to function optimally. This releases tension in the muscles, bones, and tissue. The whole body softens, the breath returns to its most natural, effortless rhythm, and the mind returns to stillness.
Along with your yoga mat, you'll need a bolster (or rolled-up firm blanket), two yoga bricks, a blanket, and a strap. If the bricks feel hard, just use a small towel instead to modify the poses to suit you.
When life challenges us, reconnecting with the effortless breath we were born with restores perspective and reminds us of our inner strength. May this simple sequence bring you calm in the face of stress and back into the beauty of your natural relaxation response.
Free the rib cage and make space for the abdomen
Set yourself up by placing each brick horizontally on its long, narrow edge: one below the lower ridge of the shoulder blades to lift the thoracic spine and the other underneath the head. Place one or two folded blankets on top of the upper brick to ease out the back of the neck.
Place the arms by the sides of the body, then bend the elbows and raise the hands so that the palms face each other. Drop the shoulder bones and press down through the elbows to lift the chest, giving it maximum space, then let it rest down on the brick.
Free the ribcage and make space for the abdomen, part 2
Make two semicircular movements with the arms — inhaling to raise them and then exhaling to take them overhead and return the elbows to the sides of the body. Inhale again and as you exhale, take hold of the elbows behind the head. Breathe naturally here and feel how the space between each of the ribs expands. After five breaths, change the hold of the elbows for five more breaths. Return the arms to the ground by the sides of the body.
To exit, press down through the forearms and elbows to lift the chest and come up to a seated position. If necessary, support the back of the head with one hand as you do this.
Release the hips and focus on the outbreath
Bring the legs into bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana). Wrap a strap around the lower back and ankles to support the legs. Rest each knee on a rolled-up blanket so that the legs can rest completely as the hips release.
To lie back, place one brick vertically on its long, thin edge so that it runs along the thoracic spine. Rest the head on a bolster with a blanket on top so that the head is higher than the chest. The chin is slightly lowered, giving an internal focus.
Feel the chest lift up and away from the abdomen, creating space for the diaphragm muscle to release any tension. The solar plexus is soft. Breathe naturally. Let the lips, jaw, and tongue be soft. On each exhalation, feel the navel drop and keep your focus on this. Stay here for up to seven minutes.
Count the breath, rest deeply, and rebalance
Place the bottom edge of the bolster below the last back rib. The lower back is free. The head rests on a folded blanket with the chin slightly lowered, maintaining an internal focus.
Begin with the legs together in mountain pose (tadasasana), then allow them to soften and roll out to the sides. Let the arms rest by the sides of the body with the palms facing upward.
Feel the natural breath in the abdomen. Count to two as you inhale and feel the belly rise. Count to two as you exhale and feel the belly fall. Keep counting the breath until you naturally feel like letting go of the counting.
Be fully present with the easy ebb and flow of the breath. Stay like this for five minutes, or longer if you wish. When life challenges us, reconnecting with the effortless breath we were born with restores perspective and reminds us of our inner strength.
May this simple sequence bring you calm in the face of stress and back into the beauty of your natural relaxation response.