“A healthy mind has an easy breath.” (Author Unknown)
Research shows an inextricable chemical link between emotions, including stress, and the functioning of the body’s immune system. The growing field of psychoneuroimmunology looks at, among other things, the connection between emotions and the ability of the body to heal itself. A pioneer in mind-body medicine, Dr. Robert Ader, coined the term, psychoneuroimmunology.
“His initial research, in the 1970s, became a touchstone for studies that have since mapped the vast communications network among immune cells, hormones and neurotransmitters. It introduced a field of research that nailed down the science behind notions once considered magical thinking: that meditation helps reduce arterial plaque; that social bonds improve cancer survival; that people under stress catch more colds; and that placebos work not only on the human mind but also on supposedly insentient cells.
At the core of Dr. Ader’s breakthrough research was an insight already obvious to any grandmother who ever said, “Stop worrying or you’ll make yourself sick.””(“Robert Ader Who Linked Stress and Illness Dies at 79,” New York Times, December 25, 2011)
Clearly, grandmothers’ intuition runs deep. Today, science has confirmed that stress is a major contributor to disease, including three big killers: heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Therefore, taming stress is essential for creating health and overall wellbeing.
Just as grandmothers instinctively know that worrying will make you sick, the advice generally given to anyone under stress—breathe— may be common sense. Yet, like most true wisdom, the admonition to breathe has profound implications for those who look below the surface level of the reality of ordinary appearances.
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness,
which unites your body to your thoughts. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
All spiritual traditions recognize the mystical implications of the breath. Breath is Life. When breathing ceases, there is no life as we know it.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Yogic philosophy, proper breathing, along with a healthy diet and exercise, are thought to be a cure for most disease. Breath vitalizes and detoxifies the body, the mind, the emotions and the spirit. Breath heals on all levels. So, we can breathe to alleviate stress.
Here are a few powerful breathing practices that you can use to release stress and bring greater balance to body, mind and spirit:
1. Use the breath to release stress and relax. If you’re feeling excited, unsettled, or anxious, take long, slow, deep even breaths. Inhale and exhale through the nose. Breathe from the diaphragm. Focus your attention on the breath. You can do this simple breathing practice easily and discretely at work.
- Surveys confirm that occupational pressures and fears are far and away the leading source of stress for American adults. A Gallup Poll found that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress; 42% say their coworkers need such help.
2. Use the breath to enliven. If you’re feeling sluggish, or the mind is foggy, invigorate with the fire breath. If you’ve done yoga, you may know it as “kapalabhathi” (or “kalabati”) breath. Exhale in short bursts through the nostrils pulling in the abdomen with a backwards push. This forces air out of the lungs. Pause between bursts to release the abs and inhale through the nose. Be sure to only contract your abs. Avoid tensing the shoulders or chest. You may feel lightheaded at first. If you do, return to normal breathing. Go slowly, and work up both speed and number of breaths per round. This vitalizing and detoxifying breath is a great way to start the day or to charge up your energy at any time. (Note: Those with hypertension or heart disease are advised not to do this practice. All are advised that, before trying any new physical practice, always consult a physician.)
3. Use the breath to heal physical discomfort. If you are achy, stiff and sore, or have pain in the body, breath-work can help to ease the discomfort. Focus your attention on, and direct the breath, to any part of the body. Where attention goes energy flows. Open up the painful area by gently breathing into it, while focusing the mind on sending love and healing to the affected body part.
4. Use the breath to release stuck emotion, including tension and stress that you may be holding. Inhale deeply through the nose. Slowly release the breath, exhaling through the mouth while making the sound Hahhhhhh!
Do this cleansing breath while lying down after a stressful day at work. Light a fragrant candle. Play some soothing meditation music. Let go of thoughts, troubles, and worries. I think you’ll find that this practice is highly pleasurable.
We live in an ocean of air like fish in a body of water.
By our breathing we are attuned to our atmosphere.
If we inhibit our breathing we isolate ourselves from the
medium in which we exist. In all Oriental and mystic philosophies,
the breath holds the secret to the highest bliss. ~Alexander Lowen
5. Use the breath to activate the light body. Breathe deeply through each of the seven chakras—root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown—focusing your attention on the chakras one at time and noticing the expansion and energy brought by the breath.
[T]he breath is the medium through which you are plugging
your own electromagnetic field—the subtle energy body that
surrounds and penetrates your physical body—into the
electromagnetic field of the whole Universe. (Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan)
Did you know that you can only live a few minutes without air? Breathe deep. Live long.