Today, everyone copes with stress differently. It’s highly individualistic, depending on each person’s traits, emotions, lifestyle, and much more.
Some drink alcohol to the point that they forget about the stress, some start to exercise, others smoke cannabis. There might not be a “right or wrong” tactic for handling difficult moments, that’s why it’s of no use for one person to judge another how she/he is coping.
As long as the “activity” does not cause your health to deteriorate and does not lead to long-term consequences, it is alright. Surely, there are cases when the intake of certain medications might be needed in order to keep one alive, disregarding the ill effects in the long run.
However, no matter how many ways there are to handle stress, there is one particular thing that we do every day that we may have not thought could be a game-changer — breathing.
Particularly, I’m talking about meditation and mindfulness.
It’s no surprise that these practices have made a lot of fuss in the past couple of years; and no wonder. Videos, seminars, and podcasts are now being made in relation to this growing trend. “Retreat” centers are being open all around the globe. Currently, mental health seems to be one of the biggest priorities for the public.
The practice of mindfulness and meditation has long been around, however, it was not long ago since we all found out that taking care of ourselves and our well-being is of prime importance for living a better, stress- and anxiety-free life.
According to the Harvard Business Review, and two recently published studies by the scientific magazine, breathing exercises have the biggest impact for both: immediate and long-term anxiety and stress decrease.
The first study, published by a research team in the Yale University, explored how three practices impact people’s mental health:
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: The MBSR is a meditation program, focused on mindfulness. Mindfulness, according to the renowned Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, is:
A kind of energy that we generate when we bring our mind back to our body and get in touch with what is going on in the present moment, within us and around us. We become aware of our breathing and come home to our body, fully present for ourselves and whatever we are doing.
The technique, according to the study, has three formal ways of practicing: mindfulness meditation, body scanning (the purpose is to tune in to your body (i.e. to reconnect to your physical self ) and notice any sensations you’re feeling without judgement or self-consciousness, and simple yoga positions.
- Various Different Breathing Exercises: SKY (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga) Breath Meditation is a breath-based meditation technique that is aimed at reducing stress and improving one’s calmness.
This particular meditation program also includes positive psychology skills, such as social connection, meaning and purpose, and acts of kindness. Yoga postures and other breathing exercises are also included in the program.
The Sudarshan Kriya Yoga’s benefits are diverse. SKY can be used for treating stress, anxiety, PTSD, depression, substance abuse and so on.
This type of yoga has three different techniques:
Here, while breathing, the practitioner consciously follows his breath and its movement while passing through the throat. It’s an extremely slow way of breathing — only 2 or 3 breaths per mine.
This allows the airway resistance to increase, which in turn allows each breath cycle to be prolonged “to an exact count.” Data suggests that this technique may lead to mental and physical calmness.
The Ancient Syllable “OM”
This is chanted several times while breathing in and out. This plays a huge role in reducing anxiety. The chant has long been known to help people with such problems.
In basic terms, the chant symbolizes the ultimate reality, our consciousness, and our inner-self — also referred to as Atman, which is a Sanskrit word. It’s the essence of the individual. No need to mention that this syllable is probably the most important one in Hinduism when it comes to spiritual symbols.
Several studies argue that, during an “OM” meditation, there is a mixture of mental alertness with physiological rest. Also, people exercising it, feel an increased sensitivity to sensory transmission. In theory, one who realizes the true nature of “OM,” will merge with the Absolute.
Also known as Bhastrika, this breathing technique is a Pronayama exercise that involves breathing forcefully in and out, filling and emptying the abomen and lungs.
All three techniques are designed to reliefve and eventually help you get rid of negative emotions, such as stress and anxiety. Of course, there are numerous more breathing techniques out there. However, I think that sometimes just sitting and breathing is enough. It’s probably up to personal preferences.
- Foundations of Emotional Intelligence (EI): The last program, studied by the researchers at Yale, explored how different techniques improve emotional awareness and regulation.
Yes, this program is not focused on any breathing or yoga techniques. However, it still can aid your brain when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety.
Of all three different programs — MBSR, SKY, and EI, researchers found out that the Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, which consisted of various breathing techniques, experienced the greatest mental-health benefit.
University of Arizona had also conducted a research on the impact of the SKY method. There, researchers found out that this particular style of breathing had a profound impact on reducing stress and improving mood. I’ve also heard stories about how soldiers benefited from this technique and had their anxiety levels significantly reduced.
As for my experience with breathing exercises and reducing anxiety, I have found out the following:
Meditating doesn’t require you to have a certain technique. There is not a right or wrong way in doing it. Sometimes it’s that simple: you just sit down cross-legged, close your eyes, and start breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, while following the air coming in and out of your body. Nothing else.
There is scientific evidence that breathing in a particular way while meditating could help you handle stress and anxiety more easily. However, the breath is just a tool that allows you to enter the world of consciousness. This is how you become present in the moment, in the Now. While you’re consciously present, it becomes really hard for anxiety and stress to enter your life.
Being mindful throughout the day also helps. You don’t have to be seated to be aware of your body and mind. Mindfulness is all about being present with what you do. Be that washing dishes, doing the laundry, cooking, or just laying down and staring at the ceiling.
Even if you happen to be doing some mundane work like dusting your room, tell yourself the following: “OK, right now I’m dusting the room and I’m giving my whole attention to it.” All the while following your breath, body movement, and being aware of any arising thoughts.
So, the moment you feel overwhelmed by anxiety or stress, try to get back to what you’re doing at the moment. If this doesn’t help in the moment — sit down and take some big deep breaths, no technique needed, just follow your chest expanding and contracting. It has helped me a lot.
Thank you for taking some time to read my article! If you wish to read more written by me, check my Medium page:
Viktor Marchev - Medium
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