Recently a friend of mine, who is in the midst of a very stressful time, asked me what ONE tool might be helpful for her. Things currently feel so overwhelming that to add anything else to the mix, even if it is something helpful for the long run, is simply too much.
Can you remember a time when you had a constant knot in the pit of your stomach, when you weren’t sure how you were going to get through the next few hours, let alone the whole day, week, month… It is extremely difficult when this kind of stress is present. It’s hard on your body, your mind, and can create a feeling of disconnect from your spirit. Thankfully there are things (little quick things!) that you can do to help your body, mind and spirit cope with these situations.
The below is one simple exercise that I learned from Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s a quick and easy breathing exercise that is very effective for helping you relax and let go of stress. It takes about a minute to do, so even if you feel like you have NO time to do anything additional in your day, I would highly recommend that you give yourself one minute first thing in the morning (it could even be in the bathroom when you get up to pee!) to do this exercise.
There are other wonderful, effective tools that you can learn to help you cope with stress, fear, worries, or other tough situations, feelings, or emotions. I plan to post some more simple tools for you to use soon.
The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
by Dr. Andrew Weil
This exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.