In today’s fast-paced world it can be a challenge finding the time to relieve stress. Sure, it would be nice to spend an afternoon at the spa, get a good rub down, maybe soak in a hot tub. But who’s got time for that? The good news is, you don’t need to carve out a big chunk of your day in order to kick stress to the curb. We’ve got an excellent tool you can keep tucked in your utility belt that will eliminate stress in 10 seconds or less. It’s called the 4-sided breath.
Typically, stress and anxiety are the results of our sympathetic nervous system being triggered. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for activating the “fight or flight” response. While it originally evolved in order to protect us from things like hungry lions, the sympathetic nervous system is also aroused by feelings of anger, shame, guilt, or anxiety. You know, stress. When we manage to relieve ourselves of stress (or get safely away from that lion) our parasympathetic system is activated, stimulating the body’s “rest and digest” and “feed and breed” responses. With the parasympathetic system online, we experience feelings of joy, happiness, passion, and serenity, and we are able to access our critical and creative thinking skills.
So, how do we convince our brain that there is no salivating predator hot on our heels? It can be as simple as taking a few breaths. Here’s how it works: The parasympathetic nervous system slows our breathing down, telling the rest of our body it’s okay to relax. So, when we focus on slowing our breathing while in that “fight or flight” mode, we can actually activate the parasympathetic nervous system to come online. Even in high stress situations, we can trick the brain into believing that everything is a-okay. Believe it or not, with a little training and practice, you can eliminate stress in 10 seconds or less.
The 4-sided breath: Sit in a comfortable, neutral position, legs shoulder-width apart, or seated cross-legged on the floor. Your back and shoulders should be straight but relaxed, hands resting on your lap, palms up or down. Close your eyes. Place your tongue lightly on the roof of your mouth. Let your muscles relax, releasing the tension from your body, starting at the top of your head and moving all the way down to the tips of your toes. Smile. That’s right, even if you don’t feel like it, put a smile on your face. Believe it or not, the muscles in your face, when smiling, send a signal to your brain that everything is all right. So, as the saying goes, turn that frown upside down. Now, you are going to breathe gently, in and out through your nose only. Mouth is closed. Imagine there is a feather under your nose and you are breathing so gently that the feather remains undisturbed. Be sure to breathe into your abdomen rather than your chest. Imagine a spot about an inch below your belly button and draw your breaths to that spot. Breathe in slowly, 3 to 4 seconds. Now pause and hold your breath, 1 to 2 seconds. Exhale slowly, 3 to 4 seconds. Pause and hold, 1 to 2 seconds. Repeat. And that’s it! As you continue this process, your brain will receive the signal that you are safe, you are not in danger, the lion is gone. Your parasympathetic nervous system will be activated and you will actually feel a physiological change in your body as your muscles relax and your emotional state shifts from one of fear and anger to one of love and joy.
As with any technique, mastering the 4-sided breath requires training and practice. It may take several minutes at first before you feel the shift in your emotional state, so it’s probably best to find a quiet space and be able to give yourself some time when first getting started. But as you continue to train your nervous system, you will eventually be able to utilize the technique anywhere, at any time, and with only one or two deep breaths, you will be able to shut down that sympathetic nervous system response and bring the parasympathetic nervous system online. Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a mom or dad with a minivan full of screaming kids, the 4-sided breath is a powerful tool that will help you find a state of calm and tranquility even in the most stressful of situations.