In this series of posts, I explore skills that you can take from a mindful yoga class to use in your daily life to help you respond to stress.
2. Befriend your breath
Our breath is an amazing bridge into our nervous system. When you start to pay attention to your breath, you will notice how it changes in response to situations, thoughts, feelings. And just as it changes to reflect the situation your nervous system is in, so you can begin to skillfully use your breath to influence your nervous system. When we are anxious, our breath often shortens, or becomes held. In class, we practice slowly relaxing the breath and lengthening the exhalation. The next time you are feeling stressed, take a moment to notice how you are breathing. Put your hands on your belly and see if you can allow your breath to move under your hands. If it feels possible, begin to invite your outbreath to get a little longer.
At home, you can practice gently lengthening your exhale. Choose ten minutes when you know you can be alone undisturbed. Silence your phone, and sit or lie comfortably. Begin to watch your breath, counting the length of your inhale and your exhale. Once you have found your natural rhythm right now, experiment with adding one count on to your outbreath. Breathe this way for a few rounds of breath and see how it feels. If it feels comfortable, you can add one more count. Again, see how it feels. You can continue like this as long as the breath still feels comfortable. Once you have found a rhythm with a longer exhale than you began, breathe with that rhythm for a few minutes. Then stop counting, allow your breath to return to normal, and check in to see how you feel.
A longer exhale, practiced gently, can be a really helpful tool when you are worried or having trouble getting to sleep.