A Simple Technique to Stimulate Your Calm
...huh? Yes! Stimulate your Calm!
Our title for this month's Mindful Matters is an obvious contradiction. Something you should know about me... I really enjoy contradictions. My favorite contradictions are when two or more things are seemingly opposed to one another, but when looked at beyond the surface, they are actually deeply connected. You cannot have light without darkness. It simply does not exist. Similarly, in Pilates, isn't our entire practice one big contradiction? We strengthen to create space, open up to draw in more deeply. We are always, in every exercise, working opposing forces, never settling into a simple linear movement, and in this way, finding balance.
The same is true when the aim is calming, de-stressing, or relieving anxiety; we will first need to reach in the opposite direction: we need to stimulate.
Below are simple steps to an ancient breathing technique, one which I have practiced since 2009. I remember the time I was introduced to it. I was overwhelmed in my life, angry even, and I had to go to this yoga class/event because I was the host! No getting out of that. The instructor began by having us sit quietly. The whole time I was thinking, "Sh*t, is this over yet?! I have to get out of here and back to work!" Then she began her instruction of Bellows Breath. She had us do 3 separate rounds of 50 (Note: that many is not recommended for beginners). By the last round of 50, I opened my eyes and, well, the only way to describe it is this: I could see. Everything was soft, slow, and beautiful. Even I, Tower of Tension, was soft, slow, beautiful-- and present.
When I got home, I finished my work in record time. My focus was heightened. Later that night I slept so peacefully-- something that had been eluding me lately. This extraordinary experience sparked my desire to learn about breathing techniques. Enjoy, and let me know how it's going!
The Stimulating Breath (also called the Bellows Breath)
The Stimulating Breath is adapted from yogic breathing techniques. Its aim is to raise vital energy and increase alertness.
Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your inhales and exhales should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy breathing exercise.
Aim for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle.
Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first round. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute.
If done properly, you may feel invigorated, comparable to the heightened awareness you feel after a good workout. You should feel the effort at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen. Try this diaphragmatic breathing exercise the next time you need an energy boost and feel yourself reaching for a cup of coffee.
"Practicing regular, mindful breathing exercise can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders." -Andrew Weil, M.D.