Using meditation and breathing to ease your stress
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When we deliberately in a stressful and upsetting moment take the proverbial deep breath, we create a somewhat better next moment.
A deep inhalation brings fullness; it brings relief and we can feel a palpable change in our energy. If we stick with conscious deep breathing for a while, those moments get incrementally better and better, and often lead us to completely transitioning to a calmer and more clear-headed state. The way we then feel, think and behave in response to what caused our stress all changes for the better.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a global mental health crisis with the lockdown restrictions, and loss of life and livelihoods magnifying depression.
Siphelele Nguse and Douglas Wassenaar’s Mental health and Covid-19 in South Africa study shows that prior to the pandemic (2018), 1 in 6 South Africans already suffered from anxiety, depression or a substance use disorder, with 60% of people possibly dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Conscious breathing is so simple and always available, you would think we would use this highly effective, free therapy a lot more to combat the chronic stresses of modern life. So says Dr Ela Manga, a medical doctor and the author of ‘Breathe – Strategising Energy in the Age of Burnout’.
“We are living in times of deep uncertainty and despair,” said Manga.
“This is reflected in the intensifying crisis in mental health; rising suicide rates and the prevalence of burnout, depression, anxiety and chronic disease. South Africa is a country that is so deeply traumatised and is attempting to heal. Each one of us has the responsibility to ourselves and each other to participate in the process of healing and growth. We need access to tools that are simple, immediately effective, empowering and accessible to everybody. Breath belongs to us all.”
Breathing works well with meditation and meditation is a great way to ease your stress.
Manga said: “The function of breathing is unique in that it is automatic through its regulation by the autonomic nervous system but is also in our conscious control. We develop suboptimal breathing habits in response to emotional suppression, societal conditioning and modern lifestyles. These breathing patterns then form part of neural pathways that inform our thinking patterns, choices and habits.
“When used in specific ways, breathing allows us to release and resolve emotions, belief systems, stresses and memories which are often inaccessible through the more conventional talking therapies. Breathing is the bridge between our conscious and subconscious experiences. Conscious breathing is one of the safest and most direct ways to explore our bodies, minds, emotions and spirituality, allowing access to our natural state of energy and inner peace,” she said.
If you are planning on using breathing in your mediation, Samantha Clayton, OLY, ISSA-CPT – Vice President, Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness, shares practical tips for calming your mind with simple and practical meditation techniques, using does and don'ts to guide your calming session:
*Don’t think that you need a completely silent and secluded place to practice. In the real world, and especially in a home with kids or at the office, finding complete silence is almost an impossible task.
*Do try to remove yourself from all major distractions, such as phones, computer screens and incredibly loud spaces. Simply turn your office chair away from the screen. If you’re at home, close your bedroom door.
*Don’t convince yourself that you need any special equipment, such as a yoga mat, bells or blankets, because you can meditate anywhere. The less stuff you rely on, the easier it will be to take a quick moment to practice.
*Do try to sit or lie down in a comfortable place where you feel relaxed. You can keep your eyes open or close them, just do what feels right for you.
*Don’t force yourself to start breathing with a specific style, like belly breathing or nose breathing. It can initially put you off or even make you feel light-headed. You can work on your breathing technique once you start to feel comfortable with meditation.
*Do focus on your breath. Feel the air coming in and leaving your body. Simply be aware of your breath, and how it feels.
*Don’t start thinking negative thoughts when your grocery list or to-do list starts to creep into your mind. Instead, redirect your focus back to your breathing.
*Don’t have a long list of affirmations or goals that you think about or chant out loud. Just use one or two key words that help you to relax or guide you towards a positive sense of well-being.
*Aim to find 20 minutes of quiet time for yourself once or twice a day. Remember that meditation is considered a practice, just like yoga. So yes, that means it may actually take practice to feel the full calming effects.