by Kirsten Warner: As a longtime yogini, I was surprised (and I must admit a little embarrassed) when I first began to develop the symptoms of an anxiety disorder…
The combination of midlife hormones mixed with a variety of other triggering life circumstances activated wild new patterns in my nervous system and it took a lot of patience and presence for me to learn to rewire them.
This breathing technique I will share with you has been by far the most helpful tool in helping me to make a shift towards more balance and ease. You can use this technique not only during times of anxiety, but any moment you need to pause and self-regulate.
It might seem overly simplistic and obvious to state that one of the most important parts of reducing symptoms of anxiety is to breathe deeply, but for many of us, this is truly the key. And I know from my own experience it is so easy to forget. Simply focusing on your breath can help restore a sense of balance and bring us back to the present moment. When we combine that breath awareness with a specific technique that has a measurable physiological effect on the body, it is even more potent.
Diaphragmatic or belly breathing is a deep breathing technique that engages your diaphragm (an umbrella shaped muscle at the bottom of your ribcage), activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of fight or flight) and reduces anxiety.
When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward. This movement causes the lungs to expand and creates a negative pressure that drives air in through the nose and mouth, filling the lungs with air. When you exhale, the diaphragm muscles relax and move upwards, which drives air out of the lungs.
By breathing in this deliberate way, you will engage your parasympathetic nervous system, reduce anxiety and soothe your body/mind.
- Turn your attention to the rise and fall of your breath. Start by breathing slowly and purposely.
- Place your hands on your belly and exhale completely.
- Hold the breath out for 1-4 seconds.
- On your next inhale, focus on puffing out your belly as much as possible. Imagine the breath expanding in all directions. Keep your awareness and breath in the lower part of your torso, but let it wrap around to your sides and back. The upper chest should remain relatively still as you do this.
- As you exhale, focus on emptying out every last drop of air and again, hold it out.
- Continue for several cycles until you feel your body starting to calm down. Five minutes is a good time frame to begin with.
If possible, practice this technique when your anxiety is not already triggered. By rehearsing it, it will become easier to use and will be more ingrained in your memory for when you need it the most.