The breath is the foundational, preemptive tool and practice for mitigating stress and anxiety, amongst other things.
I used to perform on stage from time to time when I was a young piano student, long before I learned how to breathe or knew what yoga or meditation was. Back then, I figured out that if I waited until my palms got sweaty and my breath was shallow and out of control, the likelihood of struggling during my performance was pretty high. I had to plan to intentionally keep my breath slow and calm before that could happen, and even though I had stage fright, I could always hold it together enough to forget about the audience in the first few seconds and get lost in the music. The key was in my breath.
It took a while, but I’ve since learned that living my life is the same way. Life is (arguably) like a performance, and my role is to be. me. I want to play this masterpiece harmoniously, rhythmically, and honestly, with pianissimos, crescendos, rests, repeats, and fermatas where I want them to be, setting the tone for my music and on my terms. In piano playing, I wasn’t the best at improvising, because it took me a while longer to learn, for me, what took courage.
First the breath. Then courage (not to be confused with bravado).
The breath is our life force. When we take full inhales and complete our exhales, we are literally filling our body with the vital life force energy, and then releasing the old energy that no longer serves us. Instead of getting stuck, the fresh circulation of the full breaths keeps us present and alert. We aren’t cut short by our breath, so we don’t feel cut short by what surrounds us. The life force is literally with us, so it gives us the courage to do the next thing. When I have trouble finding courage, I first look to my breath.
Found courage wants to be harnessed. Acting on courage begets courage. Not acting on it begets more not acting on it. All the while, the breath sustains us and continues to build life force energy. Courage emerges, telling us to live, take risks, evolve, improvise.
Breathe the way you want to live.
It’s essentially an all-day, every day practice for me.
The Basic Long Deep Breath:
Breathe through the nostrils with a tall spine.
Inhale the breath in, bringing that breath down to just past your diaphragm as you expand the body (the shoulders stay relaxed).
Exhale out as you press the muscles of your core in towards your spine and keep the spine tall.
You might try focusing on the full exhale and see what happens:
When you think you are done exhaling, exhale a little more. And then a little more. And then a little more, keeping the spine tall, until you have no exhale left.
Notice how naturally a full inhale becomes.