Let go of stress in a few breaths: a guide to the counted breath

The Counted Breath: Basic counts

Let go of stress. We all need that, right? Well, let’s talk about how just a few breaths can get you going in the right direction.

The counted breath technique is a basic and simple breathwork that can be used by anyone.

First, let me give you a little background… sit back and enjoy 🙂

In Yoga, we often refer to three rhythms in the body:

  1. The breath rhythm: How quickly we are breathing in and out
  2. The heart rhythm: Speed of the heartbeat
  3. The thought rhythm: How cluttered your mindspace is at any given time

These three rhythms are so connected, that as one increases, the rest increase. As one decreases, the rest decrease.

Now, the thing to understand is that when these rhythms are all high… breath is fast, heart rate is high, racing thoughts… that is when we are in a state of stress. Stress can be good. For example, if we were fleeing from a dangerous situation, these rhythms will naturally be high in an effort to save us. That’s okay. It’s a acute stress, for survival. What’s not okay is when that stress no longer serves a purpose. When we live in a state of constant high rhythms, chronic stress. And guess what? That wears us down over time.

Unfortunately, many of us spend much of our time in the elevated rhythms… many of us spend our time chronically stressed.

Here’s the key: We can affect these rhythms.

We know the rhythms are connected. So if we want to get out of a state of stress, and relax, we lower the rhythms, using what we can control.

We can’t really consciously control our heart rate. And if we try to stop our thoughts, sometimes it only sparks more… and puts into motion a cycle of overthinking and anxiety, which fuels the stress. So… we are left with breath. By paying attention, and starting to control and slow our breath rhythm, we will find that the heart rate follows suit and begins to slow. As the heart rate slows, the body relaxes. As the body relaxes, the mind, too, begins to calm. Doesn’t it sound perfect?

Let’s give it a try.

How to do a Basic Counted Breath: Relaxing

By rule of thumb, in a relaxing breath pattern, the exhale is longer than the inhale.

  1. Allow your breath to move in and out through the nose and notice the two parts: Inhale and exhale.
  2. As you continue the breath, start to count how long it takes you to breathe in and out in seconds. So for example, inhale: 1,2,3,4…exhale: 1,2,3,4
  3. To move into the relaxing breath pattern, take another breath in, keeping to a count of 4. As you exhale, let the air out slowly so that it takes 6-8 counts to release all the air.
  4. Continue with the Inhale 4 – Exhale 6/8 pattern for a few rounds and notice how you feel.

For some people, paying attention to your breath can start to make you feel light-headed or anxious at first. If this happens to you, take time to simply breathe. No counting, or changing the breath… just breathe.

For an audio introduction to the counted breath, check out the Dalai Mama Podcast: The Basic Counted Breath.

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