One of my many favourite topics in yoga teacher training was on the breath. Our breath is the gateway to our parasympathetic nervous system, which can literally calm the stress response system. The other benefit is that it takes mindfulness to focus on our breath so will naturally increase our awareness. Both of these reasons are incredibly helpful when we are feeling disconnected and ready to reach for food.
In yoga teacher training another thing we learned, when it comes to our brain, is that we are actually wired with a negativity bias. This is because when we lived in tribes off the land, if we weren’t socially accepted we would die. We also had to be on the look out scanning for threats like lions or cougars. This is why our inner critic can seem overwhelming at times. You might have noticed that your inner critic gets louder when you’re about to embark on something different or speak in front of others. This is because that inner critic wants to keep you safe and accepted, as it knows that if others don’t accept you, you’ll be without a tribe and could die.
The thing is we no longer live the way we used to and speaking out truth won’t actually kill most of us who live in the developed world. We can also experience childhood trauma’s that contribute to this fear of speaking up. This is something I’m actually working on myself as I experienced a traumatic event in childhood that made me feel I had to keep quiet, small and out of the way to stay safe. Our nervous system gets wired from these events and now I can feel myself enter a stress response as soon as I start thinking about speaking my truth, if I feel it will create conflict with others.
Pranayama is a term used in yoga that describes the control of our breath to calm our mind, connect to our body and reach higher levels of consciousness. The great thing about our breath is that it is highly connected with our mind. In sessions with my psychologist he always gets me to notice my breath when I’m sharing something that’s creating an emotional response in my body. Every time I notice my breath has gotten shallow and quick. It can feel impossible to calm our mind down, so if we can instead focus on controlling our breath, it calms our nervous system and in return our mind calms too.
When we can create a calm mind we become present and increase our awareness, which allows us to make better choices in the moment. This simple tool can give us freedom. It’s free and we can use it virtually anywhere, anytime. There are many different types of pranayama, but one of the easiest is Deep Diaphragmatic Abdominal Breathing. With this type of breathing we are focusing on filling and emptying the full lung capacity. It consists of the following:
- Inhale through the nose filling the chest, rib cage and belly.
- Exhale through the nose emptying the chest, rib cage and belly.
You can place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest. If you feel comfortable you can sit upright or lay down on your back. Repeat this as many times as needed until you notice a sense of calm in your body and mind. This tool can be used to tune into your body as part of your morning practice, during times you notice uncomfortable emotions arise, before bed, in the car, whenever!
This is a practice, which means the more you do it consistently the more you will get out of it. Like everything else we can’t do it once and expect to feel connected and we can’t get to a place we feel connected and then stop while expecting to stay connected. It’s a practice. Our breath is a powerful ally that will get you connected with your body and help you stop using food to numb emotions.