Sit with your spine as straight as possible, supported by cushions or the wall if necessary. Be comfortable. Close your eyes if you can, or focus them on the end of your nose, on a positive image or a candle flame if this suits your mood. Take a few moments to set yourself up.
Pay attention to your breath. Just notice it, without judgement. Is it fast or slow, deep or shallow? Does it flow in deep waves or come in smaller irregular movements? Is it even and effortless, or does it feel laboured and difficult? Whatever you observe, just go with it. Check your shoulders, your jaw and your neck. Observe any tightness or areas of resistance, but don’t stress about them. Make a mental note, and relax them if you can, but then move on. Observe the rhythm of your breath.
Breathing happens whether you will it or not; and the best quality breathing happens when you are relaxed or in deep sleep when it will usually flow calmly and freely. When we are disturbed or upset our breathing becomes shallow and tight, and we can change this because the opposite is also true. We can use the breath to calm the mind.
Our autonomic nervous system has two aspects; one for day-to-day life and another, more primitive set-up for survival in an emergency. Breathing is the one aspect of this system which we can control and through which we can choose to move out of our emergency response mode and back to a peaceful and restorative state.
Why is this important? Because the emergency system has evolved for exceptional situations; to help us get quickly away from danger, to defend ourselves or to freeze until the threat has passed. It functions efficiently for a short time, releasing adrenaline, increasing heart rate, causing blood to thicken in case we are injured, and suspending less important activity. Prolonged stress can leave us stuck in this emergency mode, with racing heart and high blood pressure, while our digestion and minor repair system is suspended or impaired.
So pay attention to the breath. Next time you breath in make a mental note of how long it takes. Breathe out and count again, adding one or two beats. The numbers don’t matter, as long as the outbreath is slightly longer than the inbreath. Your brain is now telling the body that there is no emergency and that it can prioritise healing, digestion and fighting infection.
Observe any tension and make a note of how the body feels. You may feel calmer.
Again, don’t judge. Be gentle with yourself. Physical habits may take time to adjust, but even a few minutes of conscious breathing every day will make a real difference over time. Breathing calmly is what your body needs, and as you rediscover it your body begins to heal.