How Breathing Tools Saved my Life and Gave me Back Control.
Updated: May 25
It's late in the evening. 2am is approaching and I am struggling to sleep again. The insomnia is so bad that I get up for the fourteenth time to find some space from the incessant persistence of it all. My thoughts are spinning. I pace the hallways to find some relief from the perpetual thinking, but nothing seems to work.
What do I do?! I scream into the ether with desperation.
On this night my thoughts had taken over me and I thought the insomnia would never end. I honestly believed in this moment that I would be stuck in a perpetual state of suffering for all eternity and there was no escape.
This is how I used to live before I learned pranayama breathing exercises. I would get into this space of panic of being stuck with insomnia and even forget to breathe.
Now I trust I have the tools to help regulate this anxiety I not only feel safe in the face that they work but knowing that I have a tool kit to escape this state of perpetual suffering has been my greatest gift.
Not only do they work to ease the anxiety and insomnia but knowing I have a get out of jail free card at hand reduces the fear around having an anxiety episode.
The reasons why it works?
Pranayama breathing helps calm down the central nervous system, as it works with the emotional processing centre, (the amygdala) to reduce the state of anxiety. It does this by sending signals to the hypothalamus, (the area that functions like a command centre) calming down the fight, flight or freeze mode and returning the central nervous system to a para-sympathetic state. To put it simply it sends signals to the body from the brain that were not in danger and that we don’t need to panic.
Alarmingly, when the body goes into fight or flight mode too often it can impact our entire health. Studies have shown that it impacts the…
And so much more…
The most shocking part of anxiety is that many of us don’t even know we are suffering, until the symptoms have wreaked havoc on our lives.
So how can we identify anxiety?
To get you started with an awareness around anxiety, here are the top 10 symptoms given by licenced medical practitioner Maria Albada LPC.
According to her and the Better Help counselling link attached below the top ten symptoms of anxiety are:
1- excessive worrying
2- difficulties sleeping and restlessness
4- feeling of doom or dread panic
5- concentration issues
6- irritability and tension
7- heart palpitations
8- sweating and hot flashes
10- shortness of breath
If you have any of these symptoms and they are creating a disruption in your life, I recommend you see a licensed medical practitioner and use alternative tools as a complimentary support NOT a replacement for actual medical guidance.
Whilst these tools have been useful to both myself and clients to manage and reduce symptoms, they could also be caused by a more serious health condition which only a licenced practitioner can determine.
Why breathing tools?
Breathing tools were first documented in the east at around 700 BC but have more recently become popularised by western culture and used as evidence-based practices to support modern medicine.
The science has shown their capacity to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, lower heart rate, balance out blood pressure, improve diabetic symptoms, reduce depression, help manage chronic pain, regulate the body’s reaction to stress and fight fatigue.
Which breathing tools are most beneficial for reducing anxiety?
The most effective tool I have found for anxiety is pranayama breathing and vagus nerve stimulation. There are so many breathing techniques that we can use but, in my experience, alternative nostril breathing is the most effective for reducing anxiety.
How do we practice?
Focus on keeping your breath slow, smooth, and continuous. Focusing on your breath will help you to remember where you are in the cycle. You should be able to breathe easily throughout the practice.
To practice alternate nostril breathing:
Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight.
Place your left hand on your left knee.
Create mudra with your hand by closing the index and middle fingers.
Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
Inhale through your left nostril and then close the left nostril with your fingers.
Open the right nostril and exhale through this side.
Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril.
Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side.
This is one cycle.
Continue for up to 5 minutes.
Always complete the practice by finishing with an exhale on the left side.
Every time you breathe in through a nostril you also close off the nostril after the inbreath.
There is always a way to manage difficult experiences like anxiety and insomnia. We may not feel it in the moment because our inner fear voice takes over and spirals into the unknow. When these states occur now in my life I trust and surrender. I know I have the tools to get me through and repeat the affirmation
‘This Too Shall Pass’.