Most of us live in a permanent state of “on,” by necessity if not by choice. The demands of work, relationships, and debt, plus the pressure to perform, produce, and perfect ourselves have never been higher. The powerful “attention economy” keeps us online and hooked into endless streams of information. It can be challenging to find points of stillness, to unwind, to touch peace.
Yet unwinding is central to healthcare in many wellness traditions, including meditation, mindfulness, breath work, and soothing touch. It’s imperative to let our nervous systems stand down on a regular basis, or we risk running ourselves into the ground.
You don’t need to escape to an exotic spa or Zen retreat center, though; simply make it a daily priority to carve out moments to relax, restore, and “be.” Just as night follows day, stillness follows activity — they are two sides of one whole.
Breathing is a surefire route to calming your mind and relaxing your body, though most of us take it for granted. True, breathing is a bodily function that is both voluntary and involuntary, but this action takes on new power and meaning when you use it intentionally.
Try these two breath exercises the next time you need to unwind.
- Place both hands on your belly, just below your bottom ribs.
- Rest the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth.
- Take a slow, deep inhalation through your nose.
- Draw your breath all the way into your belly, past your chest. Notice your diaphragm moving downward and feel your belly and rib cage expand.
- When you can take in no more air, exhale slowly through your nose until your lungs are empty — you’ll feel your belly falling under your hands.
- Repeat for 10 cycles.
As you continue, see if you can extend the exhale until it is twice the length of the inhale. Breathing this way helps quiet spinning thoughts and brings you back to your body in the present moment.
The 4-7-8 Breath
The next time you’re swept away by anger, fear, anxiety, extreme sadness, or other strong emotions, try using the 4–7–8 breath to activate your built-in calming system.
- Place the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth at the gum line.
- Purse your lips as if you’re going to blow out a candle, then exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing or sighing sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four counts, hold the breath for seven counts, and exhale through the mouth for eight counts.
- Repeat for 10 rounds.
Excerpted from How to Be Well, by Frank Lipman, MD. Copyright © 2018 by Frank Lipman, MD. Illustrations by Giacomo Bagnara. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
This originally appeared as “Unwind: Use Your Breath as a Pathway to Peace” in “6 Keys to a Happy and Healthy Life” in the July/August 2018 print issue of Experience Life.