While it may not be anatomically correct, there’s something wonderfully soothing about imagining your heart as the center of every breath. Here’s how:
Rest both hands over your heart.
Imagine breathing in and out through your heart.
Feel your body relax and your mind quiet.
Continue until you feel calm returning to your entire system.
I once tried this with my daughter while she was recovery from surgery. Still in the hospital and having a very difficult time with pain management, her heart monitor registered dangerously high. I placed my hand over her heart and asked her to breathe into my hand. Very soon the monitor was quiet and ease began to spread through her body. We stuck with it until she was able to maintain that sense of calm all on her own.
Heart breathing isn’t something I invented. This simplified version is a derivative of HeartMath, an intriguing, science-based, approach to relieving anxiety and fear. For more on HeartMath, check out their website: https://www.heartmath.com.
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
What happens if you take a few moments to live in slow motion?
You might find your world opening up. You might find you notice yourself doing things you never realized you did. You might find that some of those things you do are getting in the way of what you would like to do. You might find yourself growing in awareness until you can catch yourself the moment before you act. You might find that slowing down and noticing give you options you never knew you had.
That’s what happens during Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) class. For sure the movements can seem peculiar. They weren’t when you were a child. The lessons, done in slow motion and increasing awareness are based on natural movements, part of our shared human developmental repertoire. The impact of doing them can be incredible. How so?
Here is an interesting article on one woman’s journey from pain to ease.
For you yoga practitioners – I’m not suggesting you give up something you love. I don’t believe in an either/or kind of world. I simply suggest you give ATM a try. Who knows, maybe your yoga practice itself will become deeper and more effective.
“If something feels uncomfortable to do, stop, find a way… that feels easy and possible.
Like it’s rocking cousin, gentle bouncing has a relaxing effect on the body.
Give this a try:
Stand. Bend at the hip joints and let your arms hang down toward your feet. Notice how close your hands come to the ground – without stretching.
Come to standing again.
Gently bounce – lifting your heels and letting them drop back to the floor easily, effortlessly and quickly – many times.
Stand. Repeat bending at the hip joints, letting your arms hang down toward the floor. Notice now how close your hands come to the ground. Further?
So what just happened? When you bounce, you create the conditions for your flexor and extensor muscles to find a new balance. In other words, you stop working so hard. And working smarter, not harder, leads to ease.
Like nodding your head, opening and closing your hands can be used to guide your nervous system to a calmer, easier rhythm.
Give it a try:
Bring the tips of the fingers on your non-dominant hand to touch.
As slowly and lightly as possible begin to open your hand just a little bit.
Reverse the movement and slowly bring the tips of your fingers together again.
Continue to bring the tips of your fingers toward and away from each other as if your hand were a flower bud opening and closing in slow motion.
When you have found slow, smooth rhythm with your non-dominant hand, try it with your dominant hand.
Then, try it with both hands at the same time.
What happens to your breathing?
What happens to the tension in your jaw, neck, shoulders, face, etc. as you continue to open and close?
Your eyes and tongue can be powerful allies in your quest to calm your nerves. As noted before, the Vagus nerve rests very close to the surface in your mouth and tongue. Using your tongue to gently stroke the roof of your mouth stimulates your Vagus nerve activating your parasympathetic nervous system. You might think of stimulating your Vagus nerve as hitting the “recover” button on your nervous system.
The Vagus also rests close to the surface behind your eyes. So adding eye movements to the movements of your tongue can enhance their effectiveness. There is also the added benefit of using awareness and conscious movement to break the habitual movement patterns of tongue and eyes.
Give it a try:
Rest the tip of your tongue lightly and softly at the back of your top teeth.
Very gently and slowly begin to stroke your tongue along your upper palette in the direction of the roof of your mouth. Once there pause. Then reverse the movement, returning your tongue to its resting place behind your top teeth.
Repeat the movement, softly and slowly stroking toward the roof of your mouth and back several times.
As you do this, NOTICE what your eyes do.
Do your eyes move up or down as your tongue moves toward the roof of your mouth? toward the back of your teeth?
Once you identify how your eyes move, begin to move them consciously in the direction they seem to want to go as you continue to stroke your upper palette with your tongue.
Move very slowly and just a tiny bit. With awareness and movement, less is definitely a lot more.
After several repetitions with your eyes moving in their preferred direction, switch directions.
Notice what happens with your breathing.
Similar to it’s gargling cousin, the palate vibration you experience when you’re humming stimulates the Vagus nerve and helps to elicit a relaxation response. Humming also supports deeper breathing. Taken together the vibration and breathing add up to one feel good activity. Add a little Mozart – or other “happy” tune and you’re on your way to a brighter day.
Texting, Twittering, email, tv, video games, spreadsheets — oh,my! Whether done for fun or profit, all those screens narrow your focus and place a lot of demand on your eyes. And your nervous system.
Did you know that your nervous system is wired to create that same intensity of focus when you’re challenged? A great thing when racing to meet a deadline, but not so great when you want to chill.
Check it out: Stare intently at your screen for a few moments. Notice what happens in your neck, shoulders, back and with your emotions. Do you sense tightness creeping in? Maybe you even noticed yourself holding your breath.
The solution to calming your nerves is as simple as soothing your eyes. Here’s a quick and easy tip.
Briskly rub your hands together until your palms begin to feel hot. Close your eyes. Cup your hands (as if you were going to scoop up water.) Place your now warm palms over your closed lids eyes completely blocking out all light. Rest like this until you feel your tension melt away.
Why wrestle with your emotions when simply changing what you do with your body can shift how you feel?
If you’re feeling down, out or anxious, chances are you’ll find your shoulders slumped, back humped and head hanging. There may be tightness in your belly, your lower back might ache or you may be experiencing neck and jaw tension. You may even find you’re fighting with yourself to maintain an upright position, wishing instead that you could curl up into a ball or slouch into a cushy chair.
When you’re ready to shift your mood and allow ease to creep into your body, give this simple exercise a try.
Option 1:Static Reaching
Make a mental note of what your body is doing and the corresponding emotions you’re feeling.
Reach both arms upward toward the sky.
Let your head tilt back and your eyes look upward toward the moon.
Hold this position for a slow count of ten.
Drop your arms and check in with yourself.
Are you feeling more at ease?
Option 2: Dynamic Reaching
Check in with your body, noticing where you hold tension and how you are feeling.
Reach both arms upward toward the sky.
Turn your head and eyes to look toward your left hand.
Let your head and eyes very slowly follow the length of your left arm from hand to shoulder.
Follow the path across your chest and up the length of your right arm to your right hand.
Reverse the process. Slowly let your head and eyes trace the path from your right hand, along your right arm, across your chest and up your left arm to your left hand.
Repeat 3 or 4 times.
Let your arms drop.
What has changed?
Are you feeling more relaxed in body and mind?
Chances are you are doing it anyway. Restricted breathing is one of the hallmarks of anxiety. So rather than let a natural response get the better of you, why not turn the tables.
By taking conscious control of your automatic response to hold your breath, you are gently showing your nervous system, “this is what you do.” When your system gets the message, it responds by letting go into deeper breathing. And greater ease.
Give it a try:
Without doing anything special, simply stop breathing. Hold your breath until you feel the urge to breathe. Then let go and notice how much deeper and easier your breath has become. And how much more relaxed your body feels.
Repeat two or three times if you like. Each time, let the movement be simple – no need to take a deep breath or exhale completely. Trying to make this simple movement more complex by trying to take a deep breath can work against you.
Teach yourself ease by sticking to the simplest possible variation. Stop what you are doing – breathing; wait until you feel the urge to breathe; let go.