May 2007 - Stress Buster:
Stressed out? Want a quick technique you can use any time, anywhere? Here's how to do the Power Breath. Breath meditations are similar to many relaxation techniques used in self-hypnosis. This technique is from the Tantric tradition, which emphasizes physical sensations to slow the mind and build energy.
Tantra is one of the few spiritual approaches that harnesses the five senses in the search for the Divine, rather than suppressing them. In our sensory rich environment, and especially for meditations involving movement and traveling to and from work, Tantra provides a rich tradition for using the senses to create calm anytime/anywhere.
- Reduces stress
- Energizes the system
- Can be used anywhere
- Significant benefits in less than a minute
- Great for lowering stress before presentations, during meetings and when meeting people.
Before you begin, you need to expand your notion of how deep your breathing can be.
Your breath can be divided into four sections:
- Upper chest
- Lower chest
- Upper belly
- Lower belly
Your breath tightens and contracts when you are stressed. This exercise develops your capacity to breath from the lower belly first, then the upper belly. The suggestion is to do this practice at home and then use it elsewhere as required. There are four stages to this technique.
Stage 1: Relax all the stomach muscles and take a deep breath into the lowest part of your belly. Keep the upper chest and lower chest still.
State 2: Place your hand beneath your navel. Breath so your hand move first.
State 3: Gently and easily allow your stomach muscles to naturally expand your belly so it becomes round and full. Loosen your belt/pants to allow this.
State 4: Let the lower belly fill first and then allow the upper belly to fill with air. Again, keep the upper chest and lower chest as still as possible…any movement in the upper chest should be slight and only after the lower and upper belly have been completely filled with air.
The aim is for each in-breath to reach this same amount of exaggerated expansion. The breathing is being done correctly when you can almost feel the in-breath move your groin.
Repeat this relaxed and deep breathing ten times.
- Remain easy, soft, and relaxed in your approach! Effort and contraction and tension are not required for this practice.
- Our habits tend to be deeply ingrained in breathing shallowly. It is extremely easy for meditators to do this a few times then revert to their habitual breathing. Notice any rise and fall in the upper/lower chest to guide your attention back to expanding the lower belly first.
How this works:
In order for your system to experience stress, your physical body needs to contract in specific ways, which causes specific emotions. For example, anger and fear nearly always require your stomach muscles to tighten and contract. By keeping your breathing in a deep and relaxed manner the same emotions are experienced very differently – they seem to have a lower intensity and pass quicker. As soon as you start to feel stress, the power breath can increase your feeling of calm.
Noticing what happens to your breath is a key to understanding what’s happening in your emotional world as well. In my experience, I noticed that my breathing stopped when I wanted to hold onto or push away certain situations. My breath became a barometer for the emotional states I wanted to avoid and those I wanted to last longer.
The power breath is extremely useful in increasing your energy, as you continue to breathe in stressful situations.
- Attention is narrowed to the breath. This reduces your focus on stressful thought.
- Slower breathing physiologically slows your mental activity. Slow your breath, slow your mind.
- Relaxing stomach muscles results in stressful situations being experienced in a more relaxed manner.
- Deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, which increases your feeling of energy.
Note: I use this technique before any meeting to quickly reduce/manage stress. It allows my voice to come from a deeper, more powerful place, and my system feels more energetically alive and grounded.
- “I can’t pay attention to my breathing and focus on what’s happening during a meeting.”
For meetings/presentations this technique is best practiced before you begin, as this reduces pre-presentation stress. During the meeting/presentation the practice can be dropped and the mind can focus on the content of what’s happening. The benefits of the meditation can be achieved from one or two simple breaths and can be used whenever you need to become grounded. As with all techniques, use them as long as they are practical and useful.
- “Won’t I be embarrassed with my stomach protruding so far out?”
Despite our cultural addiction to the aesthetics of a flat washboard stomach, most people won’t notice this.
“A newborn baby breathes from its belly.
A sage also breathes from his belly.
Only modern man does not.”
Ramesh S. Balsakar
“He who controls his breath,
controls the universe.”