A Mantra for Peace
As a child, in moments of anxiety and overwhelm my parents would pacify me by saying, “the one thing you have control over is yourself, Danielle.” Through my adult life experiences, I have shifted this advice in its wording and use it often: the one thing I have control over is my breath. I have used this powerful reminder over and over this past year. This powerful reminder has become a foundational mantra of my mental health practices.
Mental Health Crisis
The COVID-10 Global pandemic in 2020 offered a roller coaster ride of emotions that it seems most of us were not prepared for. The American Psychological Association claims that “we are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.” We navigate the challenges that arise on a day to day basis from our relationships, to our work and through the constant flow of information on social media. There is no doubt that life can be filled with stress and overwhelm, no matter the year. Luckily, there are tools and practices that we can learn to cope with these experiences, and perhaps more importantly, tools and practices to move through these experiences and be able to greet them from a place of grounded ease.
Breath and Mind are Intertwined
Our emotional states directly impact the way that we breath and vice versa. Finding a way to control our breath can aid us in creating a more stable emotional landscape. Sat Bir S. Khalsa, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Research Director for Kripalu Center for Yoga and health beautifully explains this intertwined relationship in his article entitled, “The Power of Pranayama: Research and Ramifications.”
He explains that one of the key pieces of the mind-body connection is that of the body’s autonomic nervous system which houses both the sympathetic (fight, flight, or freeze) and parasympathetic (rest, digest, and heal) responses. Our autonomic nervous system, “controls the actions and reactions of the body’s systems, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive systems.” The rate at which we inhale and exhale, otherwise known as our breathing rate, directly impacts our vagus nerve – a principal component of our nervous system response.
Our greatest gift: Breath
As we experience stressful feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, our sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear, and our breathing rate shifts to a faster pace. In these moments, our minds can become a place of discontentment and chatter. One of the greatest superpowers, as I like to refer to it, is our ability to alter the response of our nervous system through intentional breathing practices. We can create a relaxation response by engaging with our parasympathetic nervous system and calming our minds, our breath, and our hearts – ultimately creating a sense of peace.
An Intentional Practice for Peace
Learning intentional breathing practices can support us in living a life that feels more grounded and easeful. This positively impacts our lives as well as the lives of those we interact with. We become a space of inspiration and a reminder to those around us that this life, no matter the circumstance, can be one of peace and tranquility if we allow it to be. The relationship between the state of our mind and our breathing is undeniable. If you are ready to experience it for yourself, try the simple practice I have described in detail below. You can do this practice anywhere that you can focus on yourself for a few moments. To enhance the effects of the techniques, you can practice from an alert yet relaxed seated position and close the curtains of your eyelids to pull your awareness inward.
Sama Vritti (Square Breathing)
Begin by exhaling all of your air out, creating a clear landscape to rewire the mind.
Seal your lips and inhale through your nose for a count of 1234…
Hold at the top of the inhale for 1234…
Exhale for 1234….
Hold at the bottom of the exhale 1234….
Inhale again, and repeat this pattern a minimum of four times.
This pattern of square breathing can create a sense of peace and contentment in the nervous system and ultimately in the mind. You can use this technique to reboot in moments of overwhelm or simply when you are needing to feel focused.
Resources to Dive Deeper
If you are interested in learning more about pranayama (breathing techniques) to support a balanced emotional state, visit Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga on Demand and access video tutorials for breathing techniques from your favorite teachers.