I’m no stranger to the mental, emotional, and physical tension that accompanies unmanaged chronic stress and anxiety.
I’ve been battling it since childhood along with PTSD and insomnia.
I sought out proven natural tools like yoga and meditation in an effort to manage all of these more efficiently and effectively.
As I deepened my yogic practice, I experienced the healing power of the breath firsthand thanks to the ancient technology of pranayama (yogic breathwork.)
A Calm State Begins With the Breath, According to Yogic Wisdom
For thousands of years, yogic sages have known that the breath is the portal through which we can increase inner calm along with emotional and physical wellbeing.
As outlined in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (a 1,700-year-old authoritative text outlining the 8-Limbed Yogic Path).
Calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.
-Sutra 1.34, Book 1
The wisdom of the Yoga Sutras was indeed before its time.
It outlined what science has now proven – that controlled deep breathing shifts our nervous system by activating the calming, regenerating, and relaxing response while at the same time lowering the stress/fear response.
Controlled, prolonged exhalation, in particular, has been shown to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, the branch of our nervous system responsible for our “rest-and-digest” relaxation response.
We can feel safe by simply breathing.
By slowing down our breathing pattern and consciously manipulating the inhales, breath-holds, and exhales we can start to send safety signals to the brain and nervous system.
And this is fertile space for our mind to be able to slow down, release tension, and find stillness.
When we feel safe, we feel calm, and our breath has the power to help us feel safe… anytime and anywhere.
The more time we spend in this parasympathetic state, the more resilient we will be in the face of daily challenges and demands.
That’s the beauty of adopting a regular pranayama practice. It offers us timeless, proven tools to help us efficiently manage our mind, our emotions, and ultimately, our lives.
We can use the breath to turn inwards.
But we still have to work at it, consistently.
We first must commit to actually implementing these tools and incorporating these practices into our daily lives. This does take work and commitment, but so does everything worthwhile.
Personally, I had to hit a breaking point in my mental health journey that led me to stop looking outwardly for answers and quick-fix solutions.
And that’s one of the main tenets of yoga–to turn your attention and senses away from the external world and towards the internal world.
It’s by going inwards that we can quiet down whatever anxious energy is robbing us of our peace and inner knowing in this moment.
Our breath is the portal through which we begin this inner journey.
The breath is a double-edged sword.
Today, you’ll take between 17,280 – 23,040 breaths.
That means that at a minimum you have 17,280 opportunities each day to use the breath to turn inwards and activate those safety signals in order to relieve stress and tension.
All it takes is just one conscious, controlled breath. Just one full round of inhaling, holding, and exhaling.
But here’s the thing:
Your breath is like a double-edged sword, it can work for you (if you learn to breathe correctly) and it can work against you (if you don’t learn to control it.)
In other words, your breath can be your ally or your foe, depending on who’s in control – you or it.
If you don’t lead your breath, your breath will lead you.
When you’re in stress or panic mode, who’s in control at that moment? Your stress response or you?
Being unknowingly and chronically overtaken by your stress response means you’re not leveraging your breath. Rather, your breath is working against you.
This makes it harder to face whatever curveballs and challenges are thrown your way.
But you can regain control. When you take back your breath through mindful awareness and intentional control, you take back your physiology.
When you take back your physiology, you take control of your mind, mood, emotions, and body.
Use this easy pranayama technique anytime, anywhere, to take back control.
The following is a super simple but oh-so-effective pranayama hack for instant calm. Don’t let its simplicity fool you into thinking that because it’s so easy, it’s not really that effective.
In fact, it’s so effective it’s even used by Navy SEALS, first responders, and Olympic athletes to manage high-stress situations in order to perform optimally.
It’s known the Navy circles, it’s known as Tactical, Combat, or Box Breathing. In the yogic circles, it’s known as Sama Vritti or Equal Breath.
Vritti refers to the fluctuations of the mind which happen all too often during moments of heightened stress or overwhelm.
Sama Vritti is considered a centering and soothing practice that can help calm those mental ripples.
A few pointers before we start:
1. Sit comfortably and upright, with your mouth, face, neck, jaw, and shoulders relaxed.
2. Breathe through your nose only, no mouth breathing.
3. Expand your lower belly outwardly with each inhale. (This will activate the safety signals to the regenerating and soothing part of your nervous system.)
4. Contract your lower belly inwardly with each exhale.
5. Try not to move your shoulders, neck, chest, or upper body.
Ok, let’s begin…
Inhale for four counts
Hold for four counts
Exhale for four counts
Hold for four counts
Repeat Steps 1-4 for a minimum of 12 rounds (just over 3 minutes)
Follow the prompts below for a guided Sama Vritti pranayama session now:
If we consider one full round of Sama Vritti a full breath, then that means that all you have to commit to are just 12 breaths out of the 17,280 breaths you take each day.
Take that in… Just 12 out of 17,280.
When you put it like that it seems pretty doable right?
The beauty of Sama Vritti is that you can do it anytime and anywhere.
In fact, I was at the doctor just today for a rather uncomfortable procedure, and I used this exact pranayama to help me endure the discomfort and relieve stress.
This timeless pranayama can work for you if you work it… consistently.
Give it a try and see what’s possible.