Breathe, with Melike Hussein
Breath Coach Melike Hussein tells us how to harness the power of our breath to help manage anxiety and restore calm:
“Take a deep breath.” Perhaps you’ve told yourself or others to take a deep breath when things got stressful. We have a natural understanding that breathing in a certain way (slow and deep) can calm swirling thoughts and ground us. Yet because breathing happens automatically, in the same way as our hearts beat and our eyes blink, we often take it for granted and don’t pay it much attention. In fact, breathing correctly and with awareness is your best friend when dealing with stress and the unwanted emotions that accompany it. Let’s take a closer look.
In these extraordinary circumstances, there’s a lot of change coming our way very fast. The way we live, work and interact with each other are all changing. Most of us experience anxiety and stress as we adapt to change, so if this is how you’re feeling, you’re certainly not alone.
When constantly triggered by fight or flight mode, your body automatically reacts as if it were under attack. It remains on alarm, fully geared up for self-protection. Your systems start to become less effective after too much wear and tear, immunity drops, sleeping problems develop, your ability to focus and memory start to fail, you experience muscle tension through aches and pain, and feelings of anxiety and stress persist.
At a time when we need to maintain and build our immune systems, it is very important to know how we can keep our body’s natural defences high.
The answer is right under your nose. Let’s breathe!
Scientific research has shown that a lot can be done by simply changing the way the mind and body react to stress. And the answer to activating your mind and body’s defences is Breath. Let’s explore how.
Breathing can change how you feel
You may have noticed that your breath becomes short and shallow when you are anxious or afraid and it becomes deeper when you are happy. It is no coincidence. Emotions and breathing are closely connected. Scientific research has proved not only that the way we feel changes our breathing pattern, but that the way we breathe changes our emotions.
The amazing thing about breath is that it is the only function in our body that is both autonomic (after all, we are breathing right now) and also completely under our control. This means you can consciously take your breath out of auto-pilot and change its pattern (depth, flow, length, etc.) at will. This unique characteristic of breath makes it an immensely powerful tool to self-regulate our physical, mental and emotional state of being.
By consciously changing your breathing pattern, you can hack messages relayed from your respiratory system to neuropathways in the brain, so changing how you respond and feel.
This means that you are not captive to the stressors and don’t need to suffer the toll chronic stress takes on your health. By simply changing your breathing pattern, you can choose to turn stress to calm and instantly restore balance to your physical, emotional and mental being.
A quick exercise to restore calm
If you’ve noticed that your breath is short and shallow, it is a sign that you are under stress as this is the ‘stressed’ pattern of breathing. To restore calm, you need to breathe more deeply and at a slower rate.
There are plenty of ways to breathe more deeply. One of the approaches I use is the 4-4-6 breath counting method. In this exercise, we will do mental counting.
1. Sitting down in a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths and let go with a sigh to tune into your body.
2. Inhale through the nose for a count of four, feel your belly expanding (you can put one or both hands on your belly). Inhale…2…3…4
3. Hold breath for a count of four. Hold…2…3…4
4. Exhale through pursed lips (as if blowing out a candle) for a count of 6. Exhale…2…3…4…5…6
5. Repeat for six rounds or until you feel calm.
To assist you in these difficult times, Melike will be releasing two free videos each week that we’ll share with you on Instagram @gazelliwellbeing starting on Friday 27 March. The videos will also be available on Melike’s website here.