Do you suffer from stress? Ever feel like you can’t catch your breath? Does shallow breathing ever cripple your ability to find zen amidst chaos?
You're not alone. A quick fix may sound too good to be true, but I assure you, sweet ones, it is not. The body has its very own, built-in quick fix!
I have the honor of studying under renowned YogaWorks Teacher Trainers, one of whom is Melanie Salvatore-August. Recently in yoga teacher training, we began covering subtle body. I am about to relay to you the absolute wealth of knowledge that Melanie imparted on us. Melanie unveiled a calming breath that has completely revolutionized what it means for me to be in my own body.
Did you know that you lose your natural “primal breathing” ability at age two? The inherent capacity for deep belly breaths, that is. After age two, we begin chest breathing: Huffing, sometimes shallow breath localized in the chest. We inflate our lungs and think we’re getting the best of our breath. Not so.
We think that in order to de-stress we need a pill, or a long yoga class, or some hard-to-grasp magic. Also not so. Did you know there's a “relaxation button” in our own bodies? I didn’t; not until Melanie.
It's called the vagus nerve and it's our body’s very own relaxation station. When a deep, primal breath is taken, the vagus nerve is stimulated. This, in turn, activates our relaxation response. The parasympathetic nervous system is kicked into gear, and it’s all flowers and butterflies from there.
So, how does one access this wonder nerve, anyway?
Melanie taught us a very simple exercise to access this powerful primal breath, the breath that we're born with, and it goes as follows:
Sit in a chair, towards the edge of the chair. Ground the sit bones, plant the feet directly under the knees, heels in line behind the second toe.
Have proper alignment here in your seat and rise up, from pubic bone to sternum to the crown of the head. Have a long, supple spine and feel stable here in your seat.
Spread the knees apart slightly and fold forward, over the legs. You should have space between your thighs to inflate your belly, while still having a bit of pressure on the side belly from your legs.
Let the head hang. Root down through the feel, remain stable. Here is where we begin the breath.
Inflate the low belly and also try to inflate the low back. A fellow yogi of mine uses the helpful imagery of trying to inflate an inter tube around the midsection with the breath. Inflating that space on the back at the base of the ribs, where the diaphragm attachments are, is most important. It will stimulate your vagus nerve, pushing the elevator button to relaxation nation.
Take three breaths here, then rise, firming the belly and coming up slowly. Do three sets of three breaths, three times per day.
Remember, the diaphragm is a muscle, so the more we use it, the stronger it gets. Happy breathing, yogis!