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  • Carolyna Bradford

The Art of the Breath

-by Carolyna Bradford

Hello 3:30 a.m., my old friend. So here you and I are again.

I thought I was doing just fine snuggled into bed, but something in my brain

jarred me awake and here we are.

The cogs start turning and every past or future fear has arrived to work me over

mentally. My body quickly arrives to see what the uninvited house guests are

doing, and now the ease of sleep has left and muscles start to tighten.

While I think I can protect my emotions from stepping into the goo that is

interrupted sleep, they show up too, but just the high maintenance ones of

fear, worry, and anxiety. The positive emotions need more sleep and are tucked

away somewhere else, unrecoverable at the moment.

It sounds all very dark, doesn’t it?

Well, first of all, it is dark, (my lights are quite literally out) and at the moment it feels dark.

Now, I understand some people get out of bed and tackle the disturbance differently, and there are times I decide getting up is what my mind, body, and soul need and I grab a pillow and blanket and go snuggle on the couch with my loyal

rescue cat, Bodhi as not to wake the rest of the household.

But, most of the time I just want to go back to sleep before the 5:00 a.m. alarm

goes off. I guess I don’t want the 3:30 am anxieties to win.

So what to do?

I try to quiet my mind by focusing on my breathing. Once I complete a few cycles,

I throw in some positive imagery and words to get my brain redirected on a

better path and my body starts to follow. Years ago, my awesome yoga teacher

talked about the importance of breath. I find the following technique to work best for me. It is all breathing through the nose.

In its simplest form:

1. Sit or lay in a comfortable position.

2. Take a slow steady breath in through the nose. I do a 5 second inhale.

3. Hold for a second or more, while gently constricting your throat.

4. Exhale slowly (another 5-6 second count) through the nose.

This is meant to be a calming breath and done at your own pace, so it takes away from your anxiety.

Some people become anxious holding their breath for a certain count. Start with just 1 second, and if that is all you can do, that is fine.

Dr. Andrew Weil teaches a breathing technique that uses the counts of 4-7-8.

In this technique you:

1. Sit or lay in a comfortable position.

2. Inhale through the nose for a count of 4 seconds.

3. Hold the breath for 7 seconds.

4. Exhale forcefully through the mouth for 8 seconds with a “whoosh” sound.

5. Repeat the pattern up to 4 times.

The tongue rests on the roof of the mouth for both styles of breathing. Check your shoulders. Are they up by your ears, or are they relaxed?

Is your jaw clenched? Or can you soften your face and body and limbs to allow you to get the full advantage of the technique?

The idea is to relax the body and have the mind draw away from the thoughts that are not servicing you best. Once I have completed a couple of cycles of breathing awareness, I use imagery and/or a word or two that bring about good feelings.

I continue the breathing cycle a few more times and reassess my stress.

These techniques don’t have to be relegated to sleepless nights. Taking 2 minutes a couple of times a day to do these techniques will ward off the stress that creeps in. It is a healthy habit that free to do, but priceless for your peace of mind.

Be well.

And breathe.

Carolyna Bradford is a NASM CPT, a writer and photographer.

Visit our Fit Tip of the Month page each month for new articles, ideas and tips.

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