How many times have we said this to someone who’s having a bad day – whether they’re angry, or sad, or in a stressful situation? How many times has someone said it to us?

I say it to myself daily! Just breathe.

It’s the most readily available tool we have in our self-care toolkit. And it’s free. We carry it with us where ever we go, and we don’t need any special equipment in order for it to work.

Right now, STOP everything you are doing.

Take a long big full belly breath in through the nose. At the top on the inhalation, pause for 3 seconds. And now fully exhale slowly through the mouth – fully relaxing everything on the exhale. At the end of the exhalation, again pause for 3 seconds. And now repeat. 3 or 4 more times. If you wish, close your eyes while you do the rounds, opening them again when you finish.

Now, how do you feel? Calmer? More relaxed?

My own teacher and mentor calls this a breath snack! I love the term – because its much like a snack we have to give us a lift until the next main meal; a breath snack like this can help us during the day if we are tired, overwhelmed, stressed – helping us to achieve calm and clarity.

So, how does it work?

Unfortunately, in today’s fast paced world, most of us are in an almost constant state of “fight or flight” with an overactive sympathetic nervous system. In this state, the stress hormones are elevated. And even though we may not be fully aware of it our breath is shortened and faster. The breath is typically up higher in the chest, and physical tension builds in the body.

When we take slow full deep abdominal breathing, it helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or what is often referred to as the “rest & digest” system. In this rest & digest phase, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are lowered, the heart rate slows, and the body relaxes.

In as few as 3 or 4 breaths like the ones you’ve just tried, this rest and digest response is activated.

If you can start and end your day by taking 10-20 of these kinds of breaths, it also gives you the benefit of a small mindfulness meditation, as you connect with each inhale and exhale.

So, enjoy your breath snacks. Regularly.

*This article was first written for www.chefnetwork.ie.


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