We’ve all experienced how stress raises blood pressure and heart rate, and interferes with digestion and sleep. Chronic stress also increases inflammation, a major contributor to illness and inclines one towards anxiety and depression.
But there’s a way to counter these effects, and it’s free, simple, and takes very little time. Modern research has shown that a simple breathing practice from the ancient science of yoga can do this.
Method: Sit or stand erect, or lie supine. Breathe slowly, 4-5 breaths per minute without strain, diaphragmatically. Your belly expands on inhalation and relaxes on exhalation through the nose. Make your inhalations and exhalations of equal duration and concentrate on the flow of breath.
If it’s too slow for you, breathe a bit faster; with practice, it will become comfortable to breathe slower.
Pause now, and try it again. Even two minutes (8-10 breaths) of this practice bring benefits. Imagine the benefits if you breathe this way, even for short periods, multiple times each day.
This simple practice has several benefits:
? Activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and harmonises body and mind.
Oxygenates the blood.
Increases heart rate variability. Unlike the constant fast rate during stress, a healthy heart rate varies, even between inhalation and exhalation.
Increases resilience from stress.
Improves perceptual processing, as stress can distort sense perceptions.
Promotes persistence of calmness.
Improves the quality of your decisions.
Here’s something even quicker: Place your right forefinger at the point between your eyebrows. Close your eyes and turn your gaze comfortably upward towards that point. Concentrate on that point for 30 seconds while breathing slowly. This simple practice stimulates the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the seat of concentration, willpower, creativity, happiness, and many other valuable faculties, while quieting the limbic system, the part of the brain that makes stress feel like a crisis.
On a deeper level, Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi, strongly recommended focusing on the spiritual eye to accelerate spiritual growth because it’s the centre of Divine bliss within the body.
Research has shown that stress affects you positively or negatively according to whether you view it as good or bad. So stress can be your ally if you develop a ‘positive stress mindset’. Yes, sometimes there’s too much stress, and you need a break. But don’t long for a stress-free life because a meaningful life always has stress; your very striving to make good things happen creates stress.
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