“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation
February is American Heart Month, a time when all people are encouraged to focus on their cardiovascular health. Heart disease continues to be the greatest health threat to Americans and is still the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the AHA's Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2021 Update.
But something quite simple can have a deeper impact than you can imagine.
Try and sit still, doing nothing, for the next 10 seconds … now 30 seconds … 60 seconds … How long can you be still without thinking of your endless to-do list or fidgeting around?
With all that we are thinking and doing, we can easily fall into a stressed state, and you will be surprised at the number of adults, and even children, who can relate to this. Because of how fast-paced life has become, stress has become more a part of our daily life than it should be.
As you sit here reading these words, you are breathing—stop for a moment and notice this breath. You could control the breath, and make it behave as you like … or you can simply let yourself breathe. There is peace in just letting your body breathe, without having to do anything about it.
Have you ever thought about how your breath can help with heart disease?
Your breath controls how your body will react to a stressful situation. Stress directly affects blood flow to the heart muscle, and any technique people can use to lower stress will benefit the heart.
As you breathe, your cardiovascular system works to transport and circulate oxygen to every cell in the body. Research supports that deep breathing exercises can have a positive impact on stress and anxiety, blood pressure, lung capacity, muscle tension, preventing heart disease, and so much more.
Deep breathing grounds us as well. “It can help intense sensations, experiences, and emotions feel less threatening. Deep breathing brings awareness which can help us to breathe mindfully, and help lower your blood pressure,” Juli Fraga, a clinical psychologist with training in mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindful parenting, has observed.
So how do you calm down when you’re feeling stressed? One recommendation from doctors and scientists is to focus on your breath. Your breathing is a valuable tool to slow down your heart rate, lessen anxiety, regulate your moods, and calm you down.
There are scientifically proven techniques that can counter the stress response called—not surprisingly—the “relaxation response,” where our bodies stop releasing stress hormones, our heart rate slows, our breathing gets deeper, and we begin to feel a sense of calm.
There are techniques like deep breathing and relaxation meditation that are available to us anywhere and any time we need them. To enjoy the health benefits of mindful breathing, take a moment to learn the basics from mindfulness expert Headspace.
- Stand, sit, or lay down comfortably, inhale for 3 to 6 seconds through your nose, and exhale for 3 to 6 seconds through your mouth. Repeat 3 – 5 times. (This is what we call “cleansing breathes” to prepare and steady you.)
- Place your awareness on your breath, inhaling and exhaling normally through your nose. There’s no need to breathe differently than normal while at rest.
- When thoughts arise, simply label them “thinking” or “wandering” to yourself, and return your awareness to your breath. It’s natural for thoughts to pop up, but the exercise here is to return to mindful breathing.
- You can practice mindful breathing for as little as 30 seconds or as long as 20 minutes. It’s entirely up to you and can be customized to fit your needs.
During American Heart Month, organizations like the AHA reinforce the importance of heart health and the need for more research. Visit their website to view their resources and learn about their efforts to ensure that millions of people live longer and healthier.
About David Pritchard
David Pritchard is a nationally certified health and performance coach with over 20 years of experience. He holds degrees in both exercise science and nutrition and has had the privilege to work with Fortune 500 companies, executives, and professional athletes from the NBA, NFL, MLB, and the Olympics. The work he is proudest of, however, is his tenure with ALG Vacations®, advocating for health and wellness in the travel industry and motivating staff and travel advisors alike to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Pritchard focuses on all facets of wellness to best assist his clients in their self-care journeys; his passion is helping people live their best lives.