By JACCI GRUNINGER, MS, C-IAYT
Life is stressful in and of itself. Pair that with the Cerro Pelado fire and I am sure you, like me, are feeling a bit anxious. During times of stress it is important to remember that our breath is our greatest resource to help navigate our nervous systems and support our immune and respiratory health, even with the horrible smoke that is moving over our town.
Breathing is a key component of yoga and yoga therapy. Here are a few ways to use your breath to down regulate your nervous system. Remember, it might take some time and practice to feel comfortable with the breathing technique. Go at your own pace and if you start to feel overwhelmed, let it go.
First, breathe through your nose. Your immune system starts at your nose. What happens in the nose is the first step to cleaning the air you are breathing from unknown particles and germs. Inside of your nose are small bone structures that prevent things from coming into your stomach that don’t belong there. In addition, inside of your sinus cavities there are pockets of nitric oxide that have antiviral capacities.
Try breathing slowly and lightly. Although deep breathing has its place, it can stimulate your sympathetic nervous system. Try breathing with a sense of softness to your inhale and your exhale. Imagine breathing when you are feeling filled with ease. Consider what it might feel like to breathe if you were quietly meditating in your favorite place.
Breathe slowly. Try counting as a way to slow your breathing down but keep the sense light and soft. This type of breathing can help manage fear and anxiety.
Find your lower belly. Your diaphragm sits inside of your rib cage. When you breathe in, the diaphragm softens and your ribcage expands out to the sides and forward. When you breathe out, your diaphragm moves up and in, back into place. As you breathe, stay soft with your inhale, but on your exhale, actively engage your abdominal muscles. Draw your navel in and slightly up like you were making the letter J or giving your organs a hug. When you inhale, become soft again. Remember to keep the breath slow and soft.
Forget the paper bag. If you are feeling anxious (like you might hyperventilate) practice holding your breath out for short periods of time. You can also just practice this breath for a future time when you might feel anxious. Take a soft, gentle breath in and out through your nose. After your next exhale, close both nostrils with your fingers, holding the breath out to a count of 5 (use a number 5 and below that feels safe and comfortable for you). Release your fingers and take a few gentle, slow breaths in and out and when you feel ready, repeat the external hold.
The goal with any of these practices is to help soften and settle the body, breath and mind. Remember, do what is best for you and your body/mind AND follow the advice of your personal healthcare practitioner. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseous return to your natural breath. You might also work with a yoga therapist to find the right breathing practices for you.
Jacci Gruninger is a Certified Yoga Therapist and Thai Yoga Massage Therapist. Teaching for more than two decades, she spent 12 of those years training yoga teachers for the Pranakriya School of Yoga Healing Arts. She helps clients manage the ups and downs of life with yoga, meditation, breathwork and bodywork. Her Yoga Therapy Center is at 190 Central Park Square #212. For her in-person and online teaching schedule and information on other services, visit www.yogawithjacci.com.