Breathe out to chill out
Breathing: you’re doing it now, but you’re probably doing it wrong. If you’re feeling edgy, anxious or on the verge of full scale panic, this most basic human function is your number one way to get a hold of yourself.
‘Most of us breathe purely out of habit. We tend to over breathe, taking three or four breaths using only the upper part of our lung capacity, when one good breath using the whole lung would serve us better,’ says Harriet Griffey, author of I Want To Be Calm.
‘Shallow breathing is part of our “fight or flight” response, causing the secretion of stress hormones,’ she explains. ‘So, in the same way that shallow breathing makes us more stressed, breathing more calmly will de-stress us, because the very act of consciously regulating our breathing sends a message from the body to the brain that everything is now OK, the emergency is over, and it can stop pumping out all that unnecessary adrenaline and cortisol that is over-stimulating and revving us up.’
So next time you’re feeling up against it – pause, don’t panic – and follow Griffey’s 5-step plan to finding a little bit of calm, wherever you are.
How to get calm in 5
1 Lie comfortably on the floor, knees bent, chin tucked in (what Alexander Technique teachers call the ‘constructive rest position’)
2 Consciously relax your neck and drop your shoulders, rest your arms by your sides with palms turned upwards and hands relaxed.
3 Breathe in long and gently through your nose, until you see your belly gently rise, for a slow count of five.
4 Pause, hold that breath for a count of five, then gently exhale through your mouth for another count of five.
5 While doing this, try to clear your mind of all other thoughts or, if this is difficult, close your eyes and visualise a pebble dropping into a pool of water and gently sinking down.
Repeat this cycle 10 times and see how your regular breathing adjusts as a consequence. You can use this breathing technique any time you feel tense or stressed, or as the basis for any meditation practice. Your breath is one of your most useful tools for regaining self-control and zen-like focus.
For more clever calming tips, check out Harriet Griffey’s book I Want To Be Calm (Hardie Grant, £8.99).