How to Calm Anxiety with this Simple Breathing Exercise
Updated: Mar 20, 2020
Integrating this breathing exercise daily saved me from a life controlled by anxiety.
I never thought of myself as suffering from anxiety. Perhaps because I had never experienced a panic attack. Or maybe it was just plain old denial. In truth, I had been living for years with an underlying buzz of anxiety, an uncomfortable hum of agitation, and an irritating pang of mild panic if things didn’t get done.
In the UK alone, more than 8.2 million people suffer with some form of anxiety disorder, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Searching for a solution, a way to relieve the continuing pressure seems to be a priority for many, including me.
Today, I can safely say that the underlying irritation has subsided. I no longer have the sometimes, unexplainable vocal explosions and those mini meltdowns when things aren’t going my way. Thankfully, through dedicating time to a conscious breathing practise, specifically the coherent breathing rhythm, I have finally found calm.
Embracing a daily breathing practice
The coherent breath, also known in Pranayama terms as Sama Vritti in Sanskrit (meaning ‘even breath’) This is a specific breathing rhythm, 5 seconds inhale and a 5 second exhale. No pause, simply in and out.
My discovery of the coherent breath happened while attending a Yoga and Mental Health conference a few years back. Dr Richard Brown shared with us the research they had been involved in with amazing results especially in relation to anxiety.
I found myself revisiting the breathing rhythm when I finally acknowledged that anxiety was smothering my decisions and relationships. This prompted the choice to commit to the coherent breath every day, in the hope that it would transform the daily onslaught of uncomfortable feelings.
I felt constantly wired. I liken it to the hyper vigilance of a meerkat when danger is present. I knew I had to calm my nervous system down. Only then would I have the ability to transform my anxiety. Cue the coherent breath, I knew of its direct effect on the nervous system so began with breathing diaphragmatically in the coherent breath rhythm for 5 minutes, 3 times a day.
Science of breathing
We live in environments that are constantly changing. There is a speed to everything we engage in. Being able to adapt physically and mentally to this chaos belongs to the vital role of the Autonomic Nervous system (ANS), a master regulator of our internal landscape.
The ANS and the heart work together in unison to manage our adaptability and resilience to our often-chaotic environments. It turns out that breathing in this rhythm has a direct effect on our Heart Rate variability (HRV variation in the heart beat-to-beat) and our ANS. A greater HRV at rest is generally indicative of better health.
When we consciously breathe in this rhythm, Dr David O'Hara explains the ‘heart frequency becomes coherent, and its fluctuations occur regularly with each breath'. This has the unfortunate medical term of ‘respiratory sinus arrhythmia’, or as David likes to call it ‘heart coherence'.
In his short scientific fact-packed book "Heart Coherence 365: A guide to long-lasting heart coherence" the benefits are plentiful to name a few:
a reduction in cortisol – Hormone secreted under stress
an increase in DHEA – Hormone that regulates Cortisol
an increase in Oxytocin – A neurotransmitter that has been called the ‘love hormone'. Promotes attachment and connection
an increase in Alpha Waves – These brain waves have been shown to be present during moments of calm and relaxation
Calming a worried mind
In the book “The Healing Power of The Breath” authors Dr Richard P. Brown and Dr Patricia Gerbarg mention that “ by voluntarily changing the rate, depth, and pattern of breathing, we can change the messages being sent from the body’s respiratory system to the brain. Messages from the respiratory system have rapid, powerful effects on major brain centres involved in thought, emotions and behaviour. “
This simple breathing practice really can alter our adaptability to our ever-increasing stressful environments. They go onto to add that “if we feel anxious, just a few minutes of coherent breathing can calm our worried mind and foster more rational, rather than impulsive, decision-making.”
But how long should we practice each day? Research shows benefits from 20 minutes daily or 3 times 5 minutes daily; the choice is yours. After a dedicated time exploring both, I settled with 10 minutes daily.
Choosing to dedicate time to the coherent breathing practice surpassed my expectations. After only four weeks of the practice I was considerably calmer. The constant irritation and mini meltdowns had disappeared. A year later the breathing practice is part of my life and continues to bring calm and balance into my life.
Sticking with a daily breathing practice can support deep physiological transformation, we just have to want to commit to it. I chose to. My invitation to you is to commit to it. Explore it. Practice it. Watch the transformation ensue.