Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the greatest stress-relievers in yoga class. But once you leave the mat, do you find that all the little things you were worrying about come trickling back into your brain? It happens to me a lot. There’s so much to think about!
Diaphragmatic breathing encourages the full oxygen exchange of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. This type of breathing relieves stress, improves concentration and can lower or stabilize blood pressure.
Although spending time meditating or practicing yoga temporarily relieves stressors, I decided to try to incorporating diaphragmatic breathing into my everyday life for a week in an attempt to become more relaxed and in the moment. I wanted to be conscious of every time I experienced stress and see if I was able to use diaphragmatic breathing to calm myself down. Here’s how my week went:
MONDAY: Sitting in traffic.
If I’m not getting to work on time due to unexpected traffic, I naturally tense up. I noticed a change in posture, stiff shoulders and shorter breath that naturally released once the traffic cleared up. Every time I get into a traffic jam, my body has the same negative reaction. This week I decided to incorporate diaphragmatic breath. When I focused on my breath, I found that it was way easier to remain calm and continue on my way. My shoulders and neck had less tension and I felt like I had better posture. It was all around an easier drive! I definitely want to continue working on this to remove the frustration and get to where I am going 97% stress-free.
TUESDAY: Working out.
When I’m not practicing yoga, I like to keep a fitness routine that is challenging, fun and different each time! I currently incorporate spinning, kickboxing or weightlifting into my weekly workout sessions. The class instructors frequently tell you to challenge yourself, which frankly can be kind of intimidating. Instead of freaking out or pushing myself too hard, I used this opportunity to remind myself to breathe thoroughly and deeply. I noticed on Tuesday that when I took the time to tell my body to breathe, I was able to keep my endurance throughout the class. This improved my overall workout! I also used yoga postures to stretch before and after, because like it or not, I should probably practice pigeon pose every chance I get.
WEDNESDAY: Going on an audition.
I’m an actor living in LA, so a part of the job is going on auditions. It is a very stressful part of my day, especially when I think the role is perfect for me. The truth is that the whole process makes me anxious. If it all goes well, I walk into the audition calm and collected, deliver the lines in the way I intended to, and don’t get any sweat stains on my shirt. You can probably tell that this perfect scenario is a rarity, so this week I tried incorporating my diaphragmatic breath. When I parked my car, I took a moment to focus on belly breathing, and continued that focus in the waiting room. This particular audition was running behind schedule, so I had the time to take some long breaths while I was settling in. I carried that calmness into the audition room – and it worked! The audition went well thanks to my confidence. No one had any idea that I might have been anxious. I imagine this diversion also works for any number of high stress scenarios – A job interview, a doctors appointment, not getting enough likes on your Instagram…Just breathe!
THURSDAY: Looking at your credit card statements.
Once my paycheck starts to dwindle and I actually open the bills I received in the mail that week, I start to stress about annoying (but necessary) things that I have to give my money to. Car insurance, the gas bill, my weekly psychic reading.. Kidding on the last one. That’s only monthly. But nevertheless, I worry that the only way I’ll be able to pay these bills is to not eat for 3 days and never leave the house. I don’t want to have to worry about spending money since it’s just another part of life, so I tried incorporating my breathing techniques to lessen the anxiety. The water bill went up this month? Slowly breathe in through my nose. I spent too much money at Target again?? Exhale through my mouth and tighten my ab muscles as my stomach deflates. I got charged an overdraft fee and now I have to call the bank??? Slowly inhale again. I can’t say diaphragmatic breathing absolves all my stress on this one, but it definitely helps. And I will use any method I’ve got when rent is due.
FRIDAY: Going to a yoga class where everyone is better at yoga than you.
I know I said I’m going to use examples that are ‘off the mat,’ but this one happened as I was walking into a new yoga class where 3 students were casually practicing intricate poses before we started. Even though I have experience doing yoga, I don’t have flexible hamstrings. I know yoga is not about what it looks like, but instructors love to come up to me after they’ve seen my forward fold and say, ‘Are you new to yoga?’ When I walked in feeling the intimidation factor of the other students in the room, my body jolted into panic mode. Since I had been practicing diaphragmatic breathing all week, I was able to stop my nerves pretty quickly and relieve some stress with a slow and steady breathing pattern. This transitioned nicely into breathing diaphragmatically for the duration of the class. My takeaway from this experience was to not let the other yoga students intimidate me and also to keep my breathing technique on hand in case of a yoga-based emergency.
I made it through the week, and you can too! Think about what makes you stressed, and see if you can utilize what you’ve learned in yoga to help ease the tension. Remember to stay focused on your breath. And don’t open your mail until you’re in a calm state.
Story and Picture by Emily Parsons, a Let It Go Yoga Certified Teacher now teaching Yoga for Kids in Los Angeles.