Breathing exercises

Breathe!
Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.

January can be a rushed time of year – catching up after a break over the holiday period, new year’s resolutions, struggling with weather etc.  Sometimes you might feel like the Red Queen, running faster and faster to stay in the same spot!  Breathing exercises are a simple, free way to take a moment to calm and gather your thoughts.

Despite seeming so simple, breathing exercises may relieve symptoms of stress, lower blood pressure and even help boost your immune system.  In “Reasons To Stay Alive” the author, Matt Haig says, “So many anxiety symptoms – dizziness, pins and needles, tingling – are directly related to shallow breathing“.  These symptoms in themselves can cause you to be stressed or anxious, and the value of breathing exercises is to break that cycle.

As always, before trying any new health or exercise regime, check with a doctor first.

There are a number of breathing exercises available. You may want to combine them with other forms of meditation, such as mindfulness or other grounding exercises.

A quiet and calm places required in which to do your breathing exercises.  This may seem quite a task, but it is worth making the effort to find or otherwise make such a place and time.  A breathing exercise can take less than a minute – that’s plenty time for three deep and slow breaths.  You can do this while queuing, safely parked in the car, at your desk or even in the loo if you need to!

One of may favourite effective breathing exercises is “7/11”.  Breathe slowly in for the count of seven, and out for the count of eleven.  Don’t force it, let it feel natural.  You may end up with a different count, which suits you better.  That’s fine.

Some people like to visualise using models like this square breathing pattern.

If you’d like something more dynamic, @nathanwpyle has some very beautiful breathing animations on his Instagram.  For example this one, this one and this one.

Try spending the next week taking some time to do some of these exercises.  See if you notice any differences.  You might like to journal your experiences.  Breathing exercises won’t change the situation around you, but as I described above they could have health benefits for you.  These health benefits can make you feel stronger, calmer and more able to cope with what is happening around you.

Using senses – grounding part 2

Image courtesy of panuruangjan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of panuruangjan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My last blog post focussed on grounding and what it is.  This time I will  look at senses and how you might use them for grounding.

We are usually taught that there are five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.

Grounding involves feeling more connected to the here-and-now, rather than on worries or concerns.  So anything that stimulates your senses enough to focus on and cut through anxiety might help.  This is why I suggested a variety of things for different senses in your cuddle baskets and comfort boxes.

However, anything harsh or unpleasant could cause discomfort rather than bodily connection.  You know yourself best and what is likely to cause you to reach out for more and what might make you withdraw.  Choose carefully based on your own experiences.

 

Here are some ideas if you struggle to think of anything:

Sight: an image in your favourite colours (or even one you can colour in yourself), a pretty piece of scenery, a toy kaleidoscope, a glittery object.

Hearing: your favourite music, birdsong, the sound of waves, running water, wind through the trees, a purring cat.

Smell: aroma oils, baking bread, your favourite perfume or scent.

Touch: soft jersey fabrics, a pet’s fur or skin, a cuddly toy, objects to ‘fiddle’ with (e.g. a physical puzzle such as a Rubik’s Cube).

Taste: mild spices (e.g. cinnamon), chocolate, fresh fruit, warm milk.  You could experiment with different types of taste – e.g. salty, sweet, umami, bitter, sour.

 

This isn’t the end, though!  You might have sensory difficulties or disabilities that make using some of these difficult or impossible.  You might also find that these examples don’t stimulate you very well.

Interestingly, it seems humans have more than just the five “traditional” senses!  You might like to explore ways to stimulate these as well:

Temperature sense: the ability to distinguish warmth or cold.

Kinesthetic sense/proprioception: the ability to know where parts of your body are relative to the others (particularly limbs) without looking (martial artists sometimes practice blindfolded to develop this sense).

Balance/acceleration: the ability to tell what way up you are and when your speed changes (close your eyes on a roller coaster!).

Organic sense: the sense of what is happening internally, such as hunger or thirst.  Do you listen to these signals?

Vibration: the ability to detect small changes in pressure.

 

What might work for you?

Grounding

grounding
Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may have heard people talking about “grounding”, “grounding exercises” or “being grounded”.  What does that mean?

The idea of grounding is from meditation.  It involves being connected with the Earth (usually physically through bare feet) and feeling this connection mentally.  Some people also refer to a feeling of being “centred”.  Your focus is brought to the here-and-now.  You can use this to develop feelings of stability and calm.

When you are stressed or upset, especially with many sources of stress, it can be difficult to feel really “here”.  You might feel overwhelmed, unable to concentrate, or even frozen into inaction.  Grounding exercises are meant to help you cut through the concerns swirling round your head.  You might, when anxious, waste energy worrying about things that may or may not happen.  You may feel exhausted and struggle with powerful emotions.  While grounding exercises cannot fix your problems, they can help you to feel more in control and powerful so you can work through them.

Grounding exercises are very simple, but can take some practice.  If you find it difficult, start small!  You could begin with a short breathing exercise, such as this one, every day for a week.

Another simple grounding exercise is to take off your shoes and socks and wriggle your toes in some lush grass (you might want to leave this bit until the weather warms up in the spring!).  Feel the connection to the Earth and other living things.  Breathe deeply.  Don’t push at negative thoughts – just let them flit by and watch them as they fly past like birds.  You can perform a similar exercise indoors if you like, concentrating on the feeling of your feet firmly on the floor.  Then gradually move up your body, feeling the weight of it in the chair and the sensation of your clothes.

You can also try the method described here.  This might help you let go of those concerns you cannot influence right now, perhaps from your circle of concern if you did that exercise.

There are many different grounding exercises available.  Some will work for you better than others.  In my next blog, I will look at your senses and how you might use them to feel more in the here-and-now.