• Breathe in, breathe out, relax

    Breathe in and allow your belly to expand with the in-breath. Breathe slowly out again. Repeat four times. Congratulations! You’ve just calmed your nervous system.

    Controlled breathing, like what you just practised, has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system. For centuries yogis have used breath control to promote concentration and improve vitality. Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practise are real. Studies have found that breathing practises can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.

    Breathing is one of the most natural and obvious facets of the human condition. The first thing we do at birth is taking our first independent breath of air. If our breathing stops for more than a few minutes, death is inevitable. Our breathing pretty much takes care of itself but is influenced by several factors, physical and emotional. If we are physically active, for example, we will breathe faster to accommodate a greater need for oxygen. In situations where we are fearful we are likely to hold our breath to protect ourselves against negative feelings. When experiencing a lot of stress our breathing can become very quick and shallow.

    When seated it is enough to breathe at a rate of 6 to 8 times per minute. Because stress is so constant in our lives we often breathe above 15 times per minute. At this breathing rate our bodies will get the message that we are physically active and will be ready for action, even if we are sitting down doing nothing. Are you often tired? Are your thoughts never giving you a break? Do you sometimes have a headache or pain in your neck and shoulders? Your breathing is a prime suspect in causing these symptoms.

    Feeling stressed, as well as your emotional state, does have an influence on your breathing pattern. Or is it your fast and shallow breathing that that gives you the negative feelings? Naturally, both is true.

    By consciously working with your breathing you can put yourself in relaxation mode at will.

    Breathe in the following manner for 4 minutes:

    1. Sit in a chair or lie down on your back. Place your hands on your belly.
    2. Breathe in through your nose while slowly counting till five. Feel your belly expanding.
    3. Breathe out through your mouth while counting till seven.

    It is likely that you now feel more relaxed and that your thinking has slowed down. By reducing your breathing-rate you have communicated to your brain that all is quiet and safe. Your brain makes sure that the production of stress hormones is stopped. Take care that your out-breath takes longer than your in-breath. This ‘sigh of relief’ will help you unwind.

    It’s great to be able to press the ‘chill-out button’ with your breathing. Wouldn’t it also be great if you could consciously breathe to get more energy? Tony Robbins, lifestyle guru and one of the worlds most successful coaches, did research on what will give you the most zest in the shortest amount of time. No, it’s not coffee, ginseng or sport. 15 minutes of deep breathing will give you the most vitality for your day.

    1. Sitting or standing, breathe in deeply through your nose. Feel your belly expanding.
    2. Continue breathing into your ribcage and feel your torso expanding.
    3. Breathe all the way into your upper chest.
    4. Now reverse the procedure by exhaling first the air from your chest, then your ribcage and then the abdomen. Tighten your belly muscles at the end, to expel all the air.
    5. Breathe in again, filling your self with air like a glass that gets filled up from the bottom to the top and then empties from the top down to the bottom. Do this for up to 15 minutes.

    Congratulations. You are now ready for action.