In the second part of our series on Yoga and Anxiety, we take a look at the importance of the breathe, and its effects on stress and anxiety levels…
The Breath and Anxiety
The link between our breath and emotion is a direct one. When we are calm our breathing is deep and slow, when we are agitated it is choppy and shallow. Anxious breathing is of this second kind and occurs primarily in the upper chest.
Breathing is one of those functions of the body that can occur both consciously and unconsciously. This means there is a continuous feedback loop between mind and body with the breath acting as a bridge between the two.
Rapid, anxious breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response). This causes the body to release stress hormones increasing our feeing of agitation and anxiety. On the other hand, deep, calm breathing does the opposite, it activates our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and repair system) causing our blood pressure and heart rate to lower, relaxing our muscles and bringing us closer to a state of calm relaxation.
Breathe your way into a sense of deeper equanimity and calm
What this means is that our breath is powerful. The simple act of nostril breathing, for example, leads to a state of relaxation because it slows the breath. By exhaling through the nose, this part of the breathing cycle is emphasized and we actually change the information being circuited through the feedback loop in the body because we’ve activated the parasympathetic nervous system.
Yoga teaches us to use the abdominal muscles to squeeze more out as we exhale. This makes space for a fuller, more satisfying inhalation, which can be especially helpful when we can’t get a full breath of air. In addition to this side stretches help to create more space in the chest and abdomen, which can ameliorate the effects of the tightness that arises from the long-term constriction of the muscles in the trunk in people with chronic anxiety.
Moral of the story? Breathe your way into a sense of deeper equanimity and calm.
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