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It may sound counter-intuitive, but the absolute most effective way to short-circuit the panic button is to voluntarily stop breathing for short durations. Short breath holds rebalance your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which then increases oxygen to the brain and body tissues. This calms the nervous system and helps you to feel more in control.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Take a normal breath in and out through the nose (light, slow abdominal breath)
2. After the exhale, pinch your nose with your fingers and count gently up to 5 seconds. It is important to always start the breath hold after an exhale.
3. Release your fingers and take another gentle and light breath in and out through the nose.
4. Either continue steps 1-3 or take recovery breaths between the breath-hold cycles as needed. Be sure to also keep these recovery breaths light and slow – avoiding any BIG breaths ( big breaths increase the stress response and negate the benefits).
5. Repeat the short breath hold process until you feel a return to calm.
How to find an appropriate breath hold time for you:
- Most people are comfortable starting with 5-second breath holds. However, if you felt like gasping or needed to take a BIG recovery breath afterwards, try reducing the breath hold next time to a comfortable count for you.
- If it felt easy, you might like to increase it to 6 seconds next time and go up to 15 seconds as you become more comfortable with holding your breath.
For those wanting to teach this technique to children, I highly recommend this video instruction from Patrick McKeown.
“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship.
I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings.
My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you.
Let us work together for unity and love.”
– Mahatma Gandhi –