The answer to stress may be in your breath


By Victoria

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- You're going to be late, again. You've been staring at a sea of brake lights for the past 20 minutes. The jerk beside you won't let you merge. The fuse has definitely been lit.

It's creeping up your back, your neck. Your head is about to explode!

What can you do, scream? How about breathe?

"The breath is a door to so many of our capacities," said clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer White-Baughan. "It can calm you down."

White-Baughan{}has more than 20 years of experience, specializing in the treatment of trauma, anxiety and depression.

But don't we just breathe automatically, without ever thinking about it?

"When we breathe deeply, in a yogic way, we can stop panic," Dr. White-Baughan says.

Yogic refers to yoga, the Hindu practice of physical, mental and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India. The goal of yoga is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility, often through meditation.

Here in the West, yoga is typically associated with exercise and gained popularity in the 1960s. It combines movement with deep breathing and has been widely studied as a treatment for depression, insomnia, pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety.

"You can't do anything about the past and you can't control the future, but your mind gets stuck in that," Dr. White-Baughan said. "And that's where suffering comes from."

"Breathing has to do with now, right this moment. The breath is a portal to the present. It awakens you in the moment that you're currently in. Anytime you're more aware, you make better decisions."

Think about it. What are you doing right now? You're reading this article, but chances are your mind is wandering in all kinds of directions. What will you have for dinner? Is the boss mad you were late again? Who will pick up the kids?

Now try this:

"Simply start by sitting in a chair, deep breathing through the nose to a count of five," said Dr. White-Baughan. "Pause, and exhale from the mouth to the count of five."

"Keep going, concentrating on the breath. You'll notice the monkey mind chatter will start to creep in. Pull yourself back to the breathing, something we do without thinking. Try training your brain back to that place."

Not easy is it? Dr. White-Baughan says it takes practice.

"When you take your focus back to the breath something fantastic happens. You have control of your thoughts, your thoughts don't control you. All of this has at its root, learning to retrain your brain away from stress, away from fear."

Frustrated? Who has time for all of this concentrated breathing? Consider this:

"What you're doing all day is stimulating your nervous system. What happens is you get addicted to that stimulus," said Dr. White-Vaughn.

"It's a state that doesn't have a positive impact on our present moment. It's tension, high blood pressure, unconscience eating."

"In our society we take a pill for lots of different things that if we truly understood the power of the breath, we wouldn't need."

Dr. White-Baughan suggests trying deep breathing exercises twice a day, once in the morning and again before bed.

Also, the next time you're stressed, sitting in that long line of traffic, don't reach for the phone, reach within. Take a breath. It's always with you.

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