For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. ~Sanskrit Proverb
Most people don’t give a lot of thought to their breathing. I mean, it’s a reflex right? It goes in, it comes out, all without much intervention from our conscious brain. But it is surprising how important it can be to cope with certain stresses and anxieties, which affect pretty much everyone.
Ever since I had chemo, I have experienced anxiety and downright panic attacks. My chest starts to tighten up, I feel like I can’t breathe, and the hot flashes start forming at the top of my head. I struggled to control them for a year without much success. There was no trigger, no action that seemed to spark the attacks. But they happened at least twice a day, usually sometime in the afternoon, and at bedtime. I began to wonder if this was my life now.
I finally fell back into my old yoga habits, one of which was deep yogic breathing. And it was incredible. Over a few months my attacks began to taper off. I rarely have one at bedtime anymore, and attacks during the day have decreased to maybe one or two a week. Not only are the episodes occurring less frequently, but I can usually nip them in the bud as soon as they start.
The key to using breathing exercises is to perform them regularly as part of a routine, not just when you are getting flustered. The exercises are simple, but take practice. They require no equipment, and can be done pretty much anywhere. And unlike most anti-anxiety medications, there are no side effects. Well, unless you count being healthy and panic attack free.
Now, there, doesn’t that feel better?
Here is a very simple breathing exercise to get you started. It is my go-to when I need to head off an attack at the pass. (See kundaliniwomen.org for this and other useful information on deep breathing). For best effect, make sure you are only breathing through your nose.
- One Minute Breath
Yogi Bhajan specifically recommended that women practice the One Minute Breath in order to create a deep experience of relaxation. Yogis also practice this breathing sequence to calm anxieties, fear and worry, open the intuition and activate the entire brain.
Inhale: Breath the air very slowly into the lungs for 20 seconds
Hold: Sustain the breath as you relax the chest and shoulders for 20 seconds
Exhale: Release the breath very slowly for 20 seconds.
Continue this sequence for 7-11 minutes daily.