I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a hard time breathing lately.
Since last March, I’ve found it hard to take a deep breath, and when I remind myself to stop and breathe, it tends to be little sips of air that get trapped in my upper chest and lifted shoulders.
The muscles in my neck, shoulders, and jaw are suffering, and this self-perpetuating cycle continues the more I tell myself to “just relax!” Muscular tension is very much influenced by mental stress, and all it takes is experiencing one tension headache to know exactly what I’m talking about. The more worry and fear that lives inside of our brains, the more it lives in the rest of our bodies as well.
So what do we do? Practice exhaling. Our lungs are a negative pressure system, and have the innate ability to refill when empty. Because stress hormones keep our breathing up high in our chest, the stale air at the bottoms of our lungs is never fully expelled, thereby limiting our bodies’ ability to oxygenate as much as it truly could (hello brain fog!). By exhaling every last drop of air out of your lungs you are creating more efficient movement of the diaphragm, and providing for a number of possible benefits, namely appealing to your “rest and recovery” hormones.
Shall we try a little breathing exercise?
-lie on your back or sit in a comfortable position with your hands rested on your belly
-start by exhaling and feel your stomach and hands move in towards your spine
-when your lungs feel totally empty, inhale through your nose allowing your stomach to widen into your hands – try not to lift your shoulders
-exhale through your nose, and squeeze every last drop of air out of your stomach
-repeat 5-10 times
When you complete these breathing cycles tune in to how your body and brain feel. If counting helps you stay concentrated on the pace of your breaths, give every exhale 1-2 seconds longer than you give the inhale. By keeping your breaths moving through your nose you are forced to really slow down the process.
Your body needs your care more than ever, and it begins with slowing down enough to breathe deeply. Chronic stress can take a toll on your physical and mental health, and it only takes 12 months of a global pandemic to send this point home. StretchWorks is here to help with your health and wellness practice.