Saved by the Breath

2 breathing exercises to support you through stress, anxiety, and panic

by Stacy Lafley

August 13, 2018

Stress. Anxiety. Panic. I'm more familiar with these than I wish to admit --- and it seems these 3 friends are great at feeding into one another and messing up my day even though I practice yoga, I meditate, I carry crystals around, I drink my green juice and I do my very best to be kind to myself.  

Some of us just struggle more than others with anxious, nervous feelings, and it's NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF!  In fact, the same qualities that might cause you to be more prone to anxiety can also cause you to be blessed with a quick mind and an exuberant enthusiasm for life. This understanding comes from the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, but I digress. Another blog post for another time-- All I'm saying is, LOVE YOURSELF, even the parts of yourself that are totally freaked out.

It's freaking SCARY to descend into a panic attack, and once it happened to me, I lived for a long time in a constant state of anxiety fearing that it would happen again.  Now, I'm really not too worried any more. I've gotten better and better at practicing some super easy tools that keep the intensity of anxiety at bay, and these tools work just as well for simple stress as they do for being on the brink of panic. 

What signals does your body give you to know it's time for a quick, structured mindfulness cure?  Tune in, listen- the body speaks, and It's usually pretty vocal when it's asking for help.

Practice the following breathing exercises NOW and get more comfortable using them so that this becomes an easy go-to tool for you!

Breathing Exercise #1: Belly Breathing

This breath is easy to use in a pinch, even when you can't think straight at all. I taught it to my dad, and he credits it for helping fall back to sleep when he wakes up in the middle of the night.  This breath has helped me with panic, and claustrophobia in a crowd.

Place your hands on your belly. Inhale, feeling your belly expand with the air. Exhale, deflating your belly ballon, exhale every last bit of air out. Repeat inhales and exhales, inflating and deflating your belly-ballon. It helps me to breathe with a slight constriction of the throat, so that I can hear my breath. For an added layer of focus here, you may like to repeat the mantra SO HUM as your breathe. SO on the inhale, HUM on the exhale.   SO HUM translates to "I am that". You might also add visualization, for example, imagining the ocean tides moving in and out on a quiet, peaceful beach.

Breathing Exercise #2: The 4-7-8 Breath 

The 4-7-8 breath was developed by functional medicine doctor Andrew Weil.  It's so easy to do, and provides quick relief from stress, anxiety, or panic.  I now know to use this method AS SOON AS my eyes feel bouncy and I feel that flutteriness or tightness in my chest. 

When I used the 4-7-8 breath earlier today in response to the nagging aforementioned symptoms, I actually began to feel a dash of HOPE, along with calm and ease.  Can I get a hallelujah?

The 4-7-8 breath is such an effective method that Dr. Weil suggests only using 4 cycles of this breath, until you get more accustomed to the relief it provides.  I highly recommend getting in the habit of using this breath every. single. day. because it takes practice to really receive the full benefit, AND it creates a conscious awareness about your state of mind, and how to control it. Here's a video of Dr. Weil teaching it, in case you'd like to follow along.

Here's what you do:

1) Exhale all the air out of your lungs, and place your tongue at the top of your pallet (on roof of mouth). 

2) INHALE through your nose for a count of 4

3) HOLD for a count of 7

4) Exhale through your mouth, keeping your tongue on your pallet, for a count of 8. 

5) Repeat this breath 3 more times.

Keep your gaze soft, or eyes closed while you practice this breath.  Start with 4 breath cycles at a time, but you can use this breath as many times a day as you want.  

 I hope these breathing tools help you as much as they've helped me!  I'd love to hear from you -  Please comment and reach out with your own techniques and stories!