Breathing Practices for a calm mind

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In my last post I had explained how stress is created and experienced in the body. Since we understand the physiology and the psychology of stress and the mental disorders it causes, we can exert some control on how much we allow it to influence our behavior. Consistent practice of breathing techniques help to shift the bodily function from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system. Whenever it appears that situational stress is taking over our mind and body we can introduce an intervention that shifts the functional mode of the brain. This intervention is as simple or easy as taking some deep breaths. We can use our breath to ease a situation immediately by taking a few deep breaths. Most of us will recall this from our childhood days when we were constantly told to take a deep breath when we got a little emotional or upset. By constant practice, pranayama is an effective tool to maintain equanimity or emotional balance as a maintenance tool. As rational beings we are able to gauge when emotions, thoughts or behavior are out of control. For instance, while driving on the freeway, if someone cuts you off, the instant reaction is anger. Most of us usually curse aloud and then move on. Even that is sufficient reaction enough to feel nervous every time a car comes too close. There are others who lose control of their emotion and start a chase to teach the offender a lesson giving into road rage.

Enough research has been done to establish that breathing techniques of yoga and meditation can help gain control of our thoughts and emotions. If not checked, tumultuous thought and emotions can lead to mental disorders , most commonly Anxiety, Depression or Obsessive Compulsive disorders. To a large extent Yogic breathing techniques help to calm the nervous system. Continuous practice can improve mental health and even stem the intensity of the disorder. Nowadays, Yogic breathing techniques are commonly used by psychotherapists practicing Cognitive Behavior therapy and Dialectical Behavior therapy.

Over time these practices help to rewire the brain allowing the individual to catch stress build up early enough to prevent it from becoming a consistent pattern of behavior. The field of mindfulness uses this premise as its basis. Breathing techniques help us to practice mindfulness. Meditation is the next step to further calm the mind.

Given below are the instructions for two breathing techniques that are very effective to calm a person when they are agitated. I cannot stress enough that these must be practiced every day for at least 10 minutes each, for a person to benefit.

Deep breathing

In this practice, the breath is regulated deliberately such that the inhale is shorter than the exhale.Sit comfortably with hands in gyan mudra or Buddha mudra. Mudras are finger positions adopted for meditative practices. Breathing techniques or pranayama are a segway to meditation.

Inhale steadily for a count of three. Exhale completely for a count of six.The exhale is twice as long as the inhale as it cools/calms the body down.

A variation is to equalize the length of the inhale to the exhale .

 Benefits

It soothes the Central Nervous system.

Regulates Blood pressure and respiration.

Fills the lungs with oxygen which helps to  calming the mind. This practice can be done anywhere and anytime one feels distress.

Anulom vilom – alternate nostril breathing

This is a practice where only one nostril is involved in the breath at any one time.

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Adopt the gyan mudra on your left hand by bringing the tips of your index finger and thumb together. Place your left hand on your right thigh with the palm facing up.
  • Bring your right hand up to your face.
  • Place the thumb on the right nostril, the index and middle fingers on your forehead and the ring and the little finger on your left nostril.
  • Inhale with both nostrils, close the right with the thumb and exhale through the right, Close the right and exhale through the left. This is one round repeat for 9 more rounds.

Benefits

This is calming breath  as the increased level of oxygen purifies the blood and calms the nerves.

It balances out both sides of the brain causing equanimity by regulating the logical and emotional aspects of the brain.

In general after practice, a sense of coolness and peace pervades the mental and physical aspects of the body.

Boosts memory. Improves the immune system.

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