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In the busy pace of day-to-day life, just taking two minutes to focus on your breath, can have positive far-reaching effects on your health and well being for the whole day. Make it a daily habit and you’ll be tapping into one of the most powerful self-healing mechanisms of the body’s innate intelligence.
Tuning in to your breath brings you back into your body and into present-moment awareness. By focusing on the breath you can calm your body and calm your mind. By slowing down the breath you change your body’s physiology and switch from the stress response (fight/flight) to the relaxation response (rest/digest). Activating this calming system slows down your heart rate and breathing, lowers your blood pressure and slows down the mind to allow you to focus. It also reduces “stress” chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline, whilst increasing “happy” chemicals like serotonin and melatonin (for sleep).
The stress response (fight/flight) is a primitive, automatic reaction to ensure our survival from outside threats. Today, in the course of a day, our stress response is often inappropriately activated by events which are not life-threatening, such as anxious thoughts or word and actions from others at work or home. Learning to breathe and elicit the relaxation response is a habit we can cultivate to take back control of our mind and thoughts.
The technique is very simple:
- Start by sitting quietly in a comfortable position without technology and distractions
- Close your eyes (if possible) and begin to relax your muscles and settle into the chair with both feet firmly planted on the ground
- Simply become aware of the breath coming in – try to breathe deeply into the belly for a count of 4, pause, and then release the breath slowly. Ideally, the exhalation should be longer than the inhalation. You can start by breathing in for 4 – pause- then breath out for 6. Within just a few minutes you should start to feel your body relaxing and your muscles feeling heavy. You can also smile (this releases endorphins and serotonin which makes you feel happier).
- Repetition of a word can help keep your mind focused. You may breathe in silently saying the word “peace”, or “calm”, or “love” and breathe out saying, “relax” or “let go”. These repetitive thoughts help us to feel safe and at home, back in our body.
This is a great self-care technique that you practice for as little as 2 minutes per day (or as long as 20 minutes). You can try inserting regular 2-minute bursts throughout your day to just pause, slow things down and become present in the now. Repetition strengthens the habit and the mind-body connection. The benefits of tuning in to the breath include better sleep, improved mood, less anxiety, increased immune function and better physical health.
So stop right now, take 2 minutes to slow down your day and activate the inbuilt healing power of your body.
(You can read more about the Relaxation in this classic book written in 1975 by Herbert Benson ‘the Relaxation Response’)
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