Breathwork for Stress and Anxiety
We’ve been holding our breath. The world came to a standstill with the pandemic, and engulfed in change when George Floyd took his last exhalation. This is a common reaction. Our body’s response to anxiety, fear, shock, anger, grief -- feeling limited -- is to push those limits.
Imagine telling a toddler, “No.” His/her reaction is to take a deep breath in, pause, and then wail with the wrath of all ancestors.
We lose our breath, too, when we’re overcome with excitement, joy, delightful surprises. Imagine telling women we can vote, in 1920.
These emotions are necessary to the human experience. They give us opportunity to witness each other and ourselves, and to use this shared knowledge to push the human experience forward -- evolve, if you will. These emotions, as mentioned, come with an inherent "pause," the first step in our framework for what it means to be present.
The second of these steps is “meditate.” It may seem daunting to be still, when ~150,000 people have died due to the pandemic, in the U.S. alone, and when none of us could move to save Floyd.
We want to do something. We’re acting out in various ways, no matter in which political stance we’ve rooted ourselves, and it’s sometimes destructive, violent, unnecessary. Worldwide walking meditations -- peaceful protests -- are sometimes culminating in emotional catharsis, before simmering into the calm of legislative change. We want to participate in history, or at least be able to embrace each other at the family cookout.
We’re hunched over our phones, scrolling through hours of screen time, desperately trying to understand and feel connected again. We’re learning best practices for checking-in with friends, community, and with self-care.
We can channel those emotions and that pause into simple breathing techniques (breathwork) that bring about a meditative, contemplative, yet still “woke” -- active and productive -- mind. In this productivity, we innovate solutions to everyday problems in our work and in our relationships. We have our “aha” moment, even if it’s only a reminder to wash the dishes.
Try this: lengthen your spine and soften your eyelids until you notice the tip of your nose in your lower periphery -- don’t cross your eyes. Take a slow deep breath in for a count of eight. Create more and more space between each number as you say them silently to yourself. One. Two... Three…
Notice the breath causing the rib cage to expand, the diaphragm to drop, the lungs fill with air all the way up to just above the collar bones. When you arrive at “eight,” pause, hold the inhalation for a steady count of eight. Five… Six… Seven...
Exhale, for another count of eight. Seven… Six… Five… Notice the slight, natural pause at the end of the exhale, before the body is ready for another inhalation. This is the same pattern that’s mimicked when we “vent,” in disbelief.
If you struggle with insomnia, practicing this pattern in a safe space, like savasana (a yoga pose in which the body is resting peacefully -- without fidgeting -- on the back with legs outstretched, and the arms outstretched at least one foot away from the torso) for at least 3-5 minutes, supports calming the mind, before bed.
Our final framework step, “reflect,” is the ultimate act of mindfulness. In reflection we see our self in each other -- no matter how far removed we may have felt from each other, a mere moment ago -- and we can answer, “Am I doing too much? Am I doing enough?”
Allow yourself to answer honestly. Jot down the answer as a memory in your journal.
In August, we’ll celebrate Prezence’s 1-year anniversary and the introduction of our Diversity of Mindfulness initiative. The word “prezence” itself is inherently diverse, an amalgamation of western and eastern language and philosophy; and the app is one that invites us to daily reflections with a growing team of 32 yoga teachers, meditation guides, and mindfulness experts including 12+ BIPOC voices.
With Diversity of Mindfulness, specifically, we will amplify anti-racism and diverse perspectives with pauses to use mindfulness as a modality for healing and social justice; meditations on ways to encourage mindfulness as a modality for leadership -- seeing coworkers and social media Friends and Followers as allies, healthy competition; and reflections to encourage mindful activism, like our upcoming downloadable eBook, Mindful Activism Resource Guide.
We’ll continue our partnership with #HalfTheStory to amplify and optimize even more marginalized voices. Plus, we’re offering our corporate partners even more opportunities to hold themselves accountable and to engage our Prezence community as mindfulness accountability buddies -- everybody needs one.
2020 isn’t cancelled at all. We’ll channel this emotional upheaval into a collective exhalation of grace, and a healthier relationship with our selfies.
And sometimes, it’ll be as simple as a reminder to wash our hands.
ON THE APP: Listen to Felipe Gonzalez's (@yogigonz) meditation: