Safety First

THE SITUATION. A couple of days ago a family member told me that they were beginning to feel anxious because they realized that they didn’t have anything to really feel anxious about. They were so accustomed to being in an anxious state, that when that sense dissipated, it felt as if something was wrong. 

WHY IT MATTERS. Sometimes we live with a sense of impending doom for so long that we don’t realize that living this way–with the expectation for the other shoe to fall off is not how we were intended to live. Living in a constant state of low-grade or high grade fear and stress is not optimal for health, creativity, and relationships. The consequences of this long term discontent is powerful.

WHAT TO DO? We often look for ways to reduce stress that create more stress rather than reduce it. We think that if we add some “helpful” activity such as meditation or yoga to our routine, we will feel better. The problem is that adding more things to our lives without paying attention to our greatest guide and teacher, our body, will not necessarily reduce stress or fear. 

Instead of waiting for that right time to go to one of our Yoga classes, begin today by paying more attention to yourself, in particular, the sensations in your body. 

Here are TWO simple practices that you can begin today that are proven to shift you from a fear/stress state to one where you are more at ease. The THIRD is a bonus.

smiling_Man_2670520

Take ten minutes in the morning and five minutes at night to practice resonant breathing.

This is a powerful and simple practice of breathing evenly at a five or six count inhale and exhale. 

Download The Breathing App (free), and set your calendar with a reminder at the same time each day. (Link below.)

Find a comfortable chair where the soles of your feet touch the ground and where you can maintain a straight back. Breathe through your nose and allow the belly to expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale. Placing your right hand on your belly to feel it move is useful here. 

Use the sound feature in The Breathing App instead of the visual cue. This will allow you to close your eyes and relax your face. 

The research on resonant breathing indicates that this is an effective way to signal to the brain that you are not in danger and that you can relax.   

Breathing is more powerful than most people realize. Ten minutes does wonders.

 

*Download The Breathing App here: iOS and Android

Begin a smiling practiceSmiling practice is simple. Take time during the day to pause and notice if you are holding tension in your face. If you are, relax the face by smiling slightly with both mouth and eyes.

The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve, the longest in our nervous system. The vagus nerve  travels from the brain all the way to the gut.  Among its many functions, it is involved with the regulation of the heart, bronchi, and head. 

Your face reflects your sense of feeling safe and at ease because of this vagus nerve connection. It does this for others who are looking at you. It also signals your brain. That is, relaxing your face, putting a slight smile and allowing the eyes to reflect the smile, signals to your brain that you are in a safe place where you can be at ease.

Much like breathing evenly (even inhale and even exhale) elevates your mood and creates a sense of wellbeing, smiling slightly does something similar.

     

Combining breathing evenly and smiling for ten minutes in the morning and five at night is a fantastic basic practice to remind you of what it feels like to feel at ease. You may not notice a dramatic change at the beginning, but over time, with consistent practice, you will notice a sense of deep relaxation.

GO DEEPER. Remind yourself that living at ease is the opposite of dis-ease. Becoming aware of the impact of living in constant stress/fear is a good first step. Taking the next step of unwinding the conditions that trigger stress is a wise move that can be started gently and TODAY. A small daily practice as I described can make a huge difference.

Safety is critical in enabling humans to optimize their potentials along several domains. Safe states are a prerequisite not only for social behavior but also for accessing the higher brain structures that enable humans to be creative and generative.

Stephen Borges, The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory

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