Health

How to Use Breathwork to Relieve Holiday Stress

It's the most chaotic time of the year!

This time of year can be magical, beautiful, and, if we’re honest, chaotic. Sticking to your exercise routine during the holidays can help reduce stress and promote a sense of peace. However, adding a bit of mindfulness to the mix also allows you to keep your mind and body at its best throughout the the winter season and into the new year. Read on to learn how intentional breathwork can help you feel centered, focused, and grateful.

Breathwork keeps you present.

Even though meditation and breathwork are not exactly the same, both utilize controlled breathing. Studies show this can lower blood pressure, encourage relaxation, and lower tension.

“Breathwork is a practice that uses breathing techniques to promote well-being,” explains Anne Douglas, a yoga therapist and meditation teacher with the app Simple Habit. “It can be used as a form of healing, as it helps to regulate our body’s homeostatic functions. The breath is often the central focus of meditation and since it is always with us, it is the perfect anchor to help keep us present.”

There are two types of breathwork: deep and extended.

Breathwork comes in many forms, notes Douglas, each with a different purpose and benefit. She describes the two most common ones as “deeper breath” and “extended exhalation.” Here’s how to do them:

Deeper Breath
Lengthen both your inhalation and exhalation to three to five seconds each. This can enhance heart rate coherence and optimize both physical and psychological systems, says Douglas.

Extended Exhalation
Extend your exhalation to almost double the length of the inhalation. This mimics your body’s normal breathing pattern, and “helps to quiet the mind,” Douglas points out.

It helps calm your body and mind in an efficient way.

“Certain breathing techniques alone activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the stress response and promotes relaxation,” says yoga teacher Renee Canzoneri. “Mindful-based activities (whether with the exercise component or without) for 27 minutes per day have shown to actually shrink the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fight-or-flight. More than this, it strengthens its connection to the pre-frontal cortex, and in times of stress—which, let’s face it, seem to run synonymously with the holidays—helps calm the body and body more efficiently.”

Michelle Gale, author of Mindful Parenting in a Messy World, says she uses breathwork to pay better attention to her body and let go of unnecessary tension on a regular basis. “We hold an incredible amount of stress in our bodies. I often find myself driving my car with my shoulders hunched, jaw tight, and barely breathing—what a funny scene. I’ve learned to notice when I’m holding tension in my body by doing a quick body scan. Then I give myself permission to release any tension I find.”

Breathwork improves concentration, productivity, and resilience.

When you practice breathwork, you’ll build your capacity for focused thinking, inner discipline, productivity, and even emotional resilience, says Douglas. “Mindful breathing uses the breath as a point of concentration. We observe our breath as it rises and falls. When we notice that we have gotten distracted by a thought or sound or sensation, we gently and nonjudgmentally bring our attention back to the breath. This helps to build our capacity to stay present not just in our practice, but throughout our daily lives.”

Pair breathwork with exercise to manage stress.

You already know exercise is a game changer when it comes to stress, and here’s why.
“Exercise can reduce stress in so many ways: boosting endorphins, increasing serotonin levels, and reducing cortisol,” says Aaptiv trainer Jennifer Giamo. “In addition to being a mood booster, it’s a great way to combat holiday stress. It allows you to focus your energy on something else and take a break from whatever is causing you anxiety. And it helps keep holiday weight gain at bay!”

Also, use exercise endorphins constructively during the holidays. “You have to be so extroverted with family and people in general, so for me, running is an opportunity to be introverted, like a moving meditation,” says Aaptiv trainer Meghan Takacs. “One of the things I love about going home for the holidays is going on long, nostalgic runs on all my old running routes. It helps me deal with stress.”

You can practice anywhere, anytime, for however long you want.

According to Douglas, the easiest way to incorporate breathwork into your daily life is to build it into an activity you already do, such as working out, cooking, or going to the office each day.

Even though meditation experts often suggest practicing breathwork at the same time each day, busy schedules don’t always allow that to happen. That’s why Gale encourages people to take advantage of the moments they can get.

“If you do nothing else, spend time each day noticing a few breaths coming in and out of your body,” says Gale.” You can do this while waiting in line at the grocery store, in the bathroom, during boring work meetings, or while on the phone with that family member who drives you crazy. Even better, sit or lay down with your eyes closed for a few minutes or more. Focus on your breath with intention and notice how you feel when you are done.”

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