“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray
When we are stressed, we tend to act in autopilot. We overeat, stay up late and react without thinking. We also tend to eat the wrong kinds of foods. Cortisol (the stress hormone) triggers us to crave stuff that is salty, sweet and fried. Deep breathing is a powerful tool to implement at the time of a craving. Remember, emotional hunger cannot be filled with food.
Most of us are not taking deep breaths. Instead, and particularly in our day-to-day hustle and bustle of life, we engage in shallow breathing. Unfortunately, it further contributes to tension and fatigue. Breathing, though, is truly a gift. To be alive! And to breath deeply is to embrace it by flooding the body with the oxygen it needs. Deep breathing with your diaphragm tends to reduce stress and improve energy.
This type of deep breathing is also referred to as abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. It is a powerful way to decrease stress by way of activating relaxation centers in the brain. The abdominal expansion causes negative pressure to pull blood into the chest, thereby improving the flow of blood back to the heart.
When you incorporate mindful exercises such as deep breathing or meditating into your daily routine, you may find that focusing your attention on achieving an inner calm during stressful moments becomes natural for you. It really can be as simple as stopping to breathe. This is an important skill that can help you deal with anxiety and negative emotions in a far more positive way. Mindful breathing can also help sharpen your ability to focus.
Below is a breathing technique that I teach all of my clients. It particularly helps those who engage in emotional eating. After this breathing technique, you can better distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. Also, you will make better food choices and eating in a relaxed state is better for digestion as well.
The following abdominal breathing exercise is often called 4-7-8 breathing. It will help you start breathing mindfully:
- Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Keep your feet slightly apart with one hand on your abdomen near the navel and the other hand on your chest.
- Gently exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth.
- Then inhale slowly through your nose to the count of four, pushing out your abdomen slightly and concentrating on your breath.
- Hold the breath for a count of at least four but less than seven.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth as you count to eight. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely release the remaining air from your lungs.
- Repeat this for a total of five cycles. (You may be able to do only one or two cycles at first.)
Once you feel comfortable with your ability to breathe into the abdomen, it is not necessary to use your hands on your abdomen and chest.
Consider how your body feels different from before practicing conscious breathing. Are your thoughts any different? Are you still hungry? Do you crave the same kind of food or are you thinking of a better alternative?
Some people use visualizations while breathing. For example, a half circle will represent inhaling and holding, and then a semi-circle as finishing the loop for exhaling and holding. Others repeat a word as a mantra, like “peace” or “joy”, so that word is the center of their thoughts.