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Deep Breathing For The ADHD Mind and Body

Just BREATHE – Let the dinosaurs chase someone else for a moment!

We have all heard the old adage at some time in our lives. When overwhelmed by panic, stress, or fear someone has encouraged us to take three deep belly breaths to help us calm down.

What may have sounded like an old wives’ tale is in fact proven scientific fact.

Positioned centrally within our diaphragm is the Vagus Nerve – the primary stimulator of our parasympathetic nervous system, and this nerve is solely responsible for initiating a feeling of relaxation, calm and a general feeling of wellbeing throughout your entire body bringing you into a state of homeostasis – basically helping you find your happy place.

Why is this important to know? When we are stressed out, our bodies respond quickly by going back to basic instincts – fight or flight.

All energy and functionality becomes focused on survival, no matter what the cause of the stress is.

Breathing Impacts Digestion, Muscle Tension and Sleep

Our body systems don’t differentiate between stress caused by a pending deadline, a difficult spouse or being chased by a dinosaur – it is received as the same message by the central nervous system – all systems must focus on survival, which means the rest of your wellness takes a back seat.

In the short term, you can identify this with digestion issues, sleep is impacted, muscle tension, and difficulty often in the neck, shoulders, hips and low back.

The long term impact of an over stressed nervous system has long been associated with life threatening disease, including heart disease, auto-immune disorders and cancer.

Feeling Less Stressed

So let me personalize this for you. In 2013 I was sitting in a hospital gown waiting to go into surgery.

I had been diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma {breast cancer} just two weeks before, and was about to have a bi-lateral mastectomy.

In the year before this moment, I had begun a regular yoga practice, mostly because I was looking for a way to stay active, and increase my flexibility.

But as I began to practice more often, I became aware that it truly helped me feel more relaxed and calm, and that carried over into my everyday life.

Most notably, I started to breath more.

I noticed suddenly that most of the time my breath was very shallow. It was only in the upper chest, and my chest hardly moved when I breathed. To look at me you could hardly tell I was breathing!

I also noticed I had a tendency to hold my breath when I became anxious, or life became difficult for whatever reason.

The hour spent on my yoga mat allowed me to connect to my body, mind and breath in a way I had never done before.

Fast forward to that moment waiting for surgery – when the nurse came in to take my blood pressure, which I was sure would be off the charts, she remarked how perfect it was.

I was calm as a cucumber – scared to death – but calm. I had been practicing my yoga breath, my deep belly breathing, and the results were undeniable. I was the scientific proof that it worked!

That was 7 years ago, and long story short, I continued doing my Yoga and eventually found my way to becoming a Yoga Teacher so I could share my Yoga experience and help others find their breath.

Cultivate Focus and Self-Awareness

Yoga is a 5,000 year old tradition and it includes moving the body through a series of postures that absolutely help build strength, mobility and flexibility.  But without the focus on breath, and mindfulness, Yoga is just exercise.

Yoga combined with breathwork encourages you to build body awareness through sensation. It cultivates focus and self-awareness.

And most importantly, it brings relaxation and calm to your nervous system – guiding you to a place of wellness and ease. Who couldn’t use more of that?

6 Steps to Feeling Calm & Focused

Don’t believe me yet? Try it yourself! The next time you feel your stress response kick in, unable to focus, anxiety building up, anger getting the best of you – stop what you are doing and follow these six steps:

  1. Stand, or sit up tall with shoulders back and dropped down away from your ears
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Take a nice big breath, inhaling through your nose, and fill up your belly like a balloon
  4. Slowly exhale through your nose, take your time releasing
  5. Repeat this 3 times { or more if you like }
  6. Notice how it makes you feel! Do you feel a little bit calmer? Less reactive? More focused?

Because We All Love A Good Game

Take this experiment a little bit further and try taking a “Yoga Breathwork Break” once a day for 5 minutes, then increase to twice or even three times a day.

Take the time to notice how it makes you feel as you begin to practice it more often – my bet is that the benefits will increase exponentially.

Let me know in the comments when you give it a try!

If nothing else, I hope that I have sparked your curiosity about the practice of Yoga and the potential of this tradition to help you navigate the challenges of life and develop healthy ways to cope with those ever persistent dinosaurs!

As featured on the Totally ADD Blog & Website