The Relaxation Response 1

Many people take breathing for granted.  After all, it happens whether we think about it or not.
Breath can be affected in both good ways and bad ways.  For example, when we are relaxed and calm, our breathing can be deep, steady and quiet but when under stress, breathing can be shallow, erratic and loud.  We breathe air in and out of the lungs, delivering oxygen to where it is needed in the body and then releasing carbon monoxide out of the body.  When breathing is shallow or erratic, the body may not receive enough oxygen to function at an optimal level.

During a stressful event, our focus may get caught up in our minds, worrying about the situation.  Yet, under these stressful times, if we focus attention on our breathing, we may realize that our breathing is strained, perhaps with greater inhalation and less exhalation or forgetting to breathe all together.  By recognizing the negative state of our breathing, we can do something about it to effect positive, immediate change to our breath.

Having a clear mind opens up the heart, which allows intuition and ideas to flow more easily.  Over-thinking is the last thing we want to do in a stressful situation.  That is one reason why focusing on the breath is important because if we pay attention to our breathing on purpose, we actually have the power to slow it down to produce the deep, steady and quiet breath, leading to more oxygen in the body, resulting in a decrease of feeling stressed.  In addition, this process will help us quiet our mind, get out of the worry state and into a healthier place to face the issue head on and get ready to make conscious decisions.

Breathing is not the only body function that goes erratic during stress.  Blood will pump faster and flow away from many internal organs and processes, such as digestion, and flow towards the limbs, brain and other organs that need to be alert during a crisis.  This was extremely helpful for cavemen when face-to-face with a large wild animal, to help the caveman have enough energy to fight off the animal or run away from the animal.  This is known as the fight or flight response.  But what was helpful for the caveman, does not necessarily apply to situations we face in today’s world.

Today, we are more prone to have conflict with other people such as coworkers and family members.  Beating up a coworker or physically running away from normal daily confrontations or stressful situations is not an appropriate response.  Yet our bodies still react to stress today the same way as cavemen, with erratic breathing, high blood pressure and a heart-pounding feeling in the chest, to name a few.

We need to learn how to react differently when stress occurs by retraining ourselves to stay calm, remember to breathe, focus on breathing and keep a clear mind.

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