I’ve been practicing mindful breathing for over a year now, and it’s gradually had a powerful effect on lowering my overall stress levels.
I’ve started using it in more daily situations, especially when interacting with others, to lower these as sources of stress and so lower the drain on my energy. But I’ve still found it challenging, especially in the higher stress moments that I most needed it.
I recently realised that part of the reason is that I’m physically tense in these moments.
When your body is tense, mindfulness is very difficult. Your mind is trying to engage in calm awareness, but your body is under stress and primed for action.
Being tense is also a huge energy drain and adds to the chronic stress that perpetuates chronic fatigue.
To break this deadlock, I realised that there was a simple and very effective step I could do to help bring myself and my body to a place where mindfulness was effective.
Simply, relax your body in the moment.
Once your body is relaxed, it feels safer and calmer, so you do too. You can then go naturally into mindful breathing, without fighting your body.
The method I use is simple:
- Start by reminding yourself to relax your body and that you are safe.
- Breathe out and imagine your body relaxing - your shoulders dropping down and backwards, your arms un-tensing.
- With each new exhale, feel the rest of your body relax too - legs, feet, hands, stomach etc.
- Each exhale should be longer than your inhale. I count 2 seconds inhale then 6 seconds exhale, but adjust this to your own natural breathing rhythm.
Once you’ve felt your body start to relax, you can move into mindful breathing or awareness as per your normal practice, e.g. focused on the rise and fall of your stomach.
This can be done in any moment, and works especially well when you’re feeling stressed or tense, or when anticipating things to come.
In those moments, you can’t change the past or the future. But you can relax your body in the present.
It’s like unlocking the moment. Learning to relax your body allows you to be calm, mindful and start to enjoy aspects of the present - the feel of the chair, the softness of a jumper, even the anticipation of events that otherwise may seem stressful.
I use this regularly now and it’s made a big difference to my energy levels. I still get stressed, tense and anxious, but the more I practice relaxing my body, the more I build trust with myself, the more energy I save for recovery and the more I unlock the potential for joy in situations that were previously closed.