Ground Breathing Your Way Through the Holidays A mindful survival guide to help you savor the holidays by giving yourself the gift of breath. By Jane Emerick Photo by Carol Oliver What presents or experiences do you give to your tribe that are meaningful and memorable? This holiday season give yourself the greatest gift you will ever know: the gift of breath. When we consciously breathe we go within, we connect to a higher self, we feel more love, we give more love, and we live our lives with more purpose. And this is not just yogi-speak—there is real hard evidence that says a bit of breath can do you a world of good. Consider this your holiday survival guide. Whenever you feel stressed or that it’s all moving too fast, slow it down by coming back to basics. You are everything you need. Breathing for Your Health Breathing, deep breaths in particular, have been medically shown to: reduce anxiety, depression, lower/stabilized blood pressure, increase energy levels, improve muscle relaxation, and decrease feelings of stress. During the holiday season, the build-up of getting your list of to do’s done before Christmas Day, the logistics of traveling home to see family, or even getting ready to take time off work can stimulate your sympathetic nervous system. This system triggers your body’s ancient fight-or-flight response, giving you a burst of energy to respond to get everything done. So basically around the holidays people are walking around in a state of panic. The idea of it is almost comical, but there is nothing funny about your breathing becoming shallow and rapid, and experiencing a shortage of breath. In this state you primarily breathe from the chest and not the lower lungs. Conscious breathing can reverse these symptoms instantly and create a sense of calm in your mind and body. When you breathe deeply and slowly, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the stress response in your body. Deep breathing stimulates the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system—the vagus nerve—slowing down your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and calming your body and mind. Breathing for Your Mind As well as reversing the physical stress response in the body, deep breathing can help calm and slow down the ongoing turbulence in the mind that many of us experience throughout the day. Breathing can have an immediate effect of bringing clarity and peace into a chaotic mind. Try it when you are in stressful situation this holiday season, or anytime of the year. Breathing can also be a tool for increasing your focus and ability to listen. By using your breath to bring your mind into the present, you also expand your ability to actually hear and not just appear to be listening. Try it at your next holiday gathering, sitting beside your Great Aunt Agnes, retelling her favorite tales of Uncle Billy (whom you have never met). Instead of letting your mind wander, do the opposite. Use your breath to maintain your focus and attention to Aunt Agnes. Become present in her story. Reach out and touch her arm. Show her you are listening. I promise you it is much more enjoyable then arriving at a relative’s and day dreaming your way through a visit until it is time to leave. Breathing for Your Spirit You may have heard this before: The people who say they are too busy to meditate are the ones who need meditation the most. The truth is that we could all use breathing basics to bring ourselves into our space, our bodies, your minds—back to our truest selves. Ancient yogis knew that breath was our primary source of prana, or life force. By becoming consciously aware of the breath and deepening it, they found that greatly expanded states of consciousness could be achieved. A couple of minutes a day, being still and aware of your breath, you can also tap into this. If you can, spend time outdoors. Breathe in the fresh air, sit quietly for a while, and contemplate the precious stillness, the beautifully awesome space that is our planet and feel a wave of gratitude for being alive and on this earth. Imagine if everyone in the world received the gift of breath these holidays. What a different place we would live in. How to Breathe Inhale through your nose, place your hands on your belly to feel it expand. Try inhale for a count of 5. At the top of your breath, hold briefly and feel your body erupting with fresh prana. Exhale fully, letting go of the thoughts and toxins that no longer serve you. Try and exhale for a count of 5. Repeat at least 5 cycles of breath and, if possible, move into a meditation or period of stillness. Read more on different types of breath, including Ujjayi here. Watch an amazing little video on breathing here. — Jane Emerick is a travel writing momma and yogi adventurer. From the top of the mountain to the depths of the sea and everything in between, find Jane on her snowboard, skis, surfboard, or bike any given day. A self-proclaimed “unorganized Mom,” Jane is a hippy at heart who loves to explore. She teaches yoga and has a background in marketing and writing. Follow Jane on Instagram or her blog, jumpsuitjane.wordpress.com.