The Costa Rica News (TCRN) – Did you know that 80-90% of all doctors’ visits are stress related? In the following article you will learn how breathing properly in conjunction with the tai chi posture can remedy this problem.
Why Improper Breathing Causes Stress
Undoubtedly, the most important thing that we do is to breathe. I doubt that anyone would argue that point. Did you know that most people do not breathe deeply or properly? This is a major factor as to why people have difficulty relaxing. Allow me to shed some light on this subject.
Separating our thorax, or chest, from our abdomen, we find a dome shaped muscle which is called the diaphragm. Acting as the main muscle of the breathing process. As we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and descends, causing our lungs to expand with air, and on the exhale, it relaxes and is responsible for pushing air out. The diaphragm plays a vital role in the respiration process and needs to function properly in order for us to breathe deeply and relax the lower abdomen.
When we get stressed out, we tend to pull our normal center of gravity from our navel level high up into our chests. This causes a significant change from the normal deep abdominal breathing to a shallower breathing pattern. As the diaphragm stops the full expansion and contraction of the thoracic cavity, an imbalance is created which causes it to eventually become tense or spastic, and ultimately dysfunctional. This results in an unconscious feeling of imbalance and disconnects us from our biological and spiritual centers.
As we continue to do this, our brain thinks that we are in a” fight or flight” reaction and we innately feel defensive, insecure, disconnected and fearful. This emotional and physical tension gets stored into our diaphragm and becomes a source of ongoing stress. Another consequence of this shallow breathing, is that it tends to deplete our life force energy or “Chi”, as we no longer breathe deeply enough. This limits the amount of the vital “source energy,” chi or oxygen, which is our body’s most important food.
When our brain recognizes that our breathing is shallow, it starts to secrete cortisol (a stress hormone) and adrenalin. This signals our body to go into a defensive posture. Since shallow breathing mimics the stress response, your shallow breathing will cause your body to be in a constant state of stress. This creates a vicious cycle that becomes our reality, as we remain unaware and unconscious of our breathing.
In my 40 plus years of the practicing Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Kung and martial arts as well as in my chiropractic practice, I have found that a person’s stress level is directly proportional to how deeply they breathe. Deep breathers naturally tend to be much more relaxed. As one begins to observe their breathing patterns, he or she will notice how and when they become stressed, they tend to breathe shallowly or even hold their breath without even realizing it.
Mouth breathers, as opposed to nose breathers, also tend to breathe superficially into the upper chest, and often find themselves feeling fatigued, as the oxygen (Chi-energy) does not go directly into their brain. Considering the important role that our brain plays in every function of our complex nervous system, and in light of the fact that it uses more than 20% of your oxygen intake, it serves one well to ensure that our brains get enough oxygen.
Consciousness in Daily Life
So now that we’ve explored how the lack of proper deep breathing is a major cause of stress, let’s look at some simple and unique solutions that you can easily incorporate into your life.
As a chiropractor, I cannot overestimate the importance of correct posture in conjunction with these following breathing practices. Combined, these will have profound healing effects for you if you take the time to become conscious and live these simple practices. Success can be more easily attained if you view these practices as giving yourself a gift of precious life force energy and in making a commitment to make these practices a part of your daily activities. No one can say that they don’t have the time to breathe or to practice good posture. We are breathing and holding ourselves in posture whether sitting, standing or walking. What it really boils down to is awareness. To let go of your stress you must first become aware of it, and then, own it. You will then be able to let it go. You can’t give up what you do not own.
Take a few minutes every morning, first thing upon awakening and in the evening right before going to bed to practice, as these times will program you on a conscious and subconscious level. As you become more familiar with the exercises, extend your practice time up to 15 – 20 minutes in the morning and evening daily for optimal results. In addition, any time throughout the day, when you notice that you are experiencing any stress, stop what you are doing and immediately practice the following. Before long, you will notice that you are breathing deeper and feel more relaxed during the day. Anytime that you need to relax, just monitor and connect with your breath while correcting your posture, and you will instantly transform you stress into vitality!
How to Sit Properly:
While you can practice sitting or lying down, we will begin using the sitting posture.
Sitting upright at the edge of your chair, with your back straight, do the following:
- Relax your chin slightly down to your chest, straightening out your neck.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Keeping back straight, press the sitting bones (Ischial Tuberosity’s) gently into chair.
- Touch your tongue gently to the roof of your mouth behind your teeth on the hard palate (feel a pulse, electric or throbbing sensation.)
- Smile. Recall a happy loving memory and imagine that you are experiencing that emotion right now, in this present moment. Feel the muscles of your face and eyes relaxing and smiling as you recreate that emotion.
- Relax your chest and the solar plexus area under your breast bone. This is very important! If this area is tight, then massage it and consciously relax this area until it is soft. Also, gently massage under and around the bottom of the rib cage. Using both hands, start in the center in the area called the solar plexus, which lies under the breast bone (the sternum.) Press each hand underneath the rib cage, working your hands as far as you can around to your back, releasing the diaphragm until it relaxes. This will increase your lung capacity and your relaxation level as well.
- Keep your feet shoulder width apart and parallel on the ground, feeling all surfaces connecting with the earth. Do this by gently pressing from the top of the foot, sending imaginary roots from the bottom of your feet down to the center of the earth.
- Relax your hands and arms, comfortably resting them on your thighs, palms facing upward. Keep the fingers relaxed, straight and not clenched.
According to Grand Master Mantak Chia in his book Transform Your Stress into Vitality: “You should always sit like this whenever possible, as it will reduce the stress on your structure and will keep you aligned with and in the ready position to naturally transmit the forces of gravity. This will help you to conduct your stress into the earth, rather than holding it in your body. Visualize your feet sinking into the earth as you send your stress into the center of the earth. Watch what happens now, as you connect with the earth energy. As your stress reduces you will feel a sense of calm, refreshed and an increase in your life force energy (Chi).”
By maintaining your structure as outlined in the previous steps, you are now ready to begin using effective breathing exercises to reduce your stress. Let’s continue.
- As you smile, imagine a white mist or light going into your breath as you breathe in through your nose. Direct your breath infused with the light into the area known as the “third eye.” It’s a point located between your eyebrows and two inches deep. The tip of your tongue is always gently touching the roof of your mouth, just behind the two front teeth. This connects two very important energy pathways, which I will discuss in a later article.
- As you inhale, immediately feel your lower abdomen expand at the level of the navel. Place your hand over your navel and watch it go in and out with each breath, so that you can be sure that you are breathing deeply enough.
- As you breathe deeply into the lower abdomen, imagine that you are filling up a bottle from the bottom up. The breath begins with the lower abdomen, then fills the lower, middle and upper parts of your lungs. See the white, misty light filling your entire torso. Relax your chest, and resist the urge to pull it up. When you think that you can’t inhale anymore, sip in just a little more air. Over time, you will be surprised at the increased volume of air you can inhale.
- Now as you exhale through your nose, feel the chest relaxing from the top down, feel all the stress leaving your body. Visualize the stress leaving your body as a black mist or a cloud of dark energy. If you have any kind of sickness or stress, see it going down into the earth leaving through your feet. Always keep your lower abdomen relaxed and full and begin the breathing process from there working upwards. Practice your breathing as deeply and as slowly as possible, as if you are sipping in the air. At first this may seem difficult, but progress is fast if you do this consciously and daily!
Practice this in the morning before your start your day, in fact as soon as you open your eyes. Now smile inwardly and see yourself relaxed, happy and loving your life, feel gratitude for your life, visualize yourself going through your day with love and ease. Also repeat this process before going to bed and of course throughout the day when you remember. The more you do this breathing and practice the posture the more this will become natural to you. We all did this when we were young children and our bodies will reawaken to that memory. Before you know it, these practices will take root and it will happen naturally. Always pay attention to your posture and breathing and you will see and feel the magic.
Paying attention to this posture and to the breathing in this way is extremely powerful and will transform your stress into vitality. It will also teach you to how relax naturally.
Now, refresh your smile, breathe deeply and continue your life. You should now feel more relaxed. Remember to always smile as this in itself is very transformational and helps balance your emotional life.
By Michael Posner