3 Easy Steps To Make Your Breathwork Practice More Calming
If you've ever been stuck in your head spinning in overwhelm, feeling yourself starting to spiral downward into negativity, then learning how to breathe to calm your mind and shift anxious thoughts is a skill that will be a game-changer for you.
The role of the breath in the nervous system.
Your breath is the link between your body and your mind because your breath is connected to your nervous system.
When the body is threatened, the sympathetic nervous system, or the fight-or-flight acute stress response, is activated. This prepares the body to move into quick action to defend and protect itself: Pupils dilate, the heart pumps faster, blood pressure increases, and the breath becomes shallow and rapid.
When the threat is gone, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and creates the rest-and-digest or relaxation response. The heart rate and breath slow down, and the body begins to repair and rejuvenate itself.
The fascinating thing is that the nervous system activates the body the same way, regardless of where the threat is coming from. The threat could be physically present (a lion chasing you) or one that your mind perceives to be threatening (a deadline at work, a conversation with a loved one, or a social event with friends). In any of these instances, the nervous system will activate the body through a cascade of hormones that then activates the physical body.
In other words, the mind has a direct effect on the breath via the nervous system. And the reverse is also true. By changing the pattern of your breath, you can also affect your nervous system, which, in turn, changes the physiology of your body and the state of your mind.
The most important thing to do when you have spinning, anxious thoughts racing through your mind is to find a way to get out of your head and down into your body. And your breath is the fastest way to do this.
A 3-step practice to stop spinning in overwhelm.
When engaging in breathwork, these three tricks can make your practice more calming and effective:
Shift your awareness to your body.
Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands placed gently in your lap. Soften your gaze and breathe with your natural rhythm. Begin to observe the movement of your breath in and out of your body.
Ground into the earth.
Feel the chair beneath you. Imagine roots growing down through the bottoms of your feet, deep into the earth.
Lengthen your exhale.
Now begin to extend your exhale by one or two counts. Continue breathing with an extended exhale for one to three minutes to shift into the parasympathetic state. By extending the exhale, you're tapping into the power of the calming effect of the breath.
Remember, breath is really powerful medicine. Plus, it's free and you can use it anytime, anywhere. The next time you find that you're spinning in overwhelm and need to calm your mind and shift your anxious thoughts, use your breath to help you get out of your head, down into your body, and into a more grounded state of being.
Avanti Kumar-Singh, is an Ayurveda Wellness Expert on a mission to show how Ayurveda is a health catalyst to achieve optimal wellness in modern life.
After receiving her Bachelor's in Art History from the University of Chicago, she went on to receive her medical degree from Rush University Medical College. While working as an ER physician, she experienced first-hand the limitations of Western medicine. To learn more, Kumar-Singh began a 10-year wellness journey during which she studied energy healing and yoga therapy and became a practitioner of the 5,000-year-old ancient healing tradition known as Ayurveda.
Over the two decades of her training, study, and research, Kumar-Singh has shared her expertise with Fortune 500 companies, at elite undergraduate and graduate institutions, and at prestigious industry and medical conferences. She has been featured in the Huffington Post, goop, Thrive Global and mindbodygreen and served as the co-lead facilitator of the Faculty Scholars Program in Integrative Healthcare at the OSHER Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern Medicine.
She is also the author of The Health Catalyst and The Health Catalyst Podcast. If you'd like to receive new episodes as they're published, please subscribe to The Healing Catalyst in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts..