When the stress gets too much: how a simple breathing exercise could help you feel less stressed

Stress is one of the biggest unseen dangers in our fast-paced times. It worsens your health condition and opens the door for infections. Also, you risk worse relationships with your friends, family, loved ones… Following is a subtle way to detach yourself, lower stress and feel more calm and in control. (Hint: monks use this day in, day out). 

What exactly is “stress”? 

Stress is our body’s coping mechanism. The idea behind it is to “pump us up” with enough energy for a ‘fight or flight’ type of situation. The blood is pumped either into the arms (‘fight’) or into the legs (‘flight’).

The thing is: This mechanism is designed for dangerous situations, not a long period of time. If we experience stress on a daily basis… We have a mammoth problem on our hands. Because it acts like a poison to our bodies.

One core problem of the western approach to health 

The western approach to health often consists of “swallow this pill to (hopefully) get rid of that problem.“ It tends to focus on the body only and ignores the mind in the process. 

But the truth is, that body and mind always depend on each other. And one of the worst “mind” dangers in western society is stress.

What issues does it cause?

Many people don’t even notice the stress anymore, because they’ve gotten used to it. Because we’re constantly “busy”, we never take some time for ourselves. We’re constantly in our head, running from one task to the next, depleting all our mental energy. But, the day will come where we hit a brick wall with 150 mph. And we burn out.

To prevent that, we need to find a way to detach ourselves from time to time.

How about a more “exotic” approach?

The Indian and Chinese cultures have always paid attention to the mind as well when treating ailments. Both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda are several thousand years old. They already knew a couple millennia ago that proper breathing and relaxation are one key factor for health. Well-known examples are meditation and Yoga. 

I like to call this approach “The Yin & Yang Method”: It’s simply about including the mental, or emotional aspect as well in our quest for better health, instead of focusing on nutrition and medicine exclusively. 

Active vs. passive health

The idea is to give you the feeling that you can play an active role in your health development instead of falling into the passive “victim role”. “Patient” comes from the Latin “patior”, which means “suffer” and more often than not, it evokes the image of someone waiting passively for their cure.

Too many times in my life have I seen people who hoped that their health would somehow become “normal” just by popping pills, while being constantly stressed out. But we need to take care of our body and mind for a long, healthy life. 

Especially Qi Gong is a good way to calm down and give you some relaxation through easy-to-do meditations. Also, there are many relaxing physical activities that ANYONE can do. (Provided you don’t have any major issues or pain in your knees, for example).

Once again, the idea behind Qi Gong is to put you in an active role, to give you the feeling of “I can do something about my health”. One of the biggest benefits: It teaches you proper, ‘healthy’ breathing.

This shift in mentality alone can make a huge, positive difference for your stress, because you now have the feeling that your health is in your hands.

Chest breathing vs. stomach breathing

I’ve got a little shocker for you: most people don’t know how to breathe “correctly”. There’s two basic types of breathing: chest breathing and stomach breathing.

When we breathe through our chest, we use less lung capacity and we end up breathing more often, which increases our heart rate (which you want to avoid when calming down).

With stomach breathing, you use more lung capacity, inhale more deeply and you need to inhale fewer times because of that. In the process, your heart rate goes down as well. Stomach breathing will help you when you’re doing Yoga and meditation. 

NOTE: While you do want to have calmer breathing in general, you DON’T want to breathe calmly when you’re running for example. That would be dangerous. 

Simple and quick stomach breathing manual

  1. Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  2. Breathe as you regularly would. Does your chest move or your stomach?
  3. Is it your stomach that’s moving? Great! Skip to 7. If not, don’t worry.
  4. If your chest is moving, not your stomach, imagine this: Imagine that you’re breathing not with your lungs, but with your stomach. The air enters “deeper”, more way down than usually.
  5. Your stomach should expand when you breathe in and ‘fall flat’ when you exhale. (Don’t worry about looks here 🙂 )
  6. If it’s not working the first couple of times you try, don’t give up! Don’t force it. Work your way up calmly (It did take me some time to get used to it as well).
  7. If you’re already a stomach breathing pro, try to breathe as calmly and evenly as possible, don’t force it. Don’t try to overcontrol it, trust in your body’s breathing.

It’s easier to learn than you might think at first

Relaxed stomach breathing is simply about slowing down your day, lowering your breathing rate, with that your heartbeat and as a result… you have a calmer mind and less stress. 

And that’s what the stomach breathing is all about. It helps you unwind, feel relaxed and good. (That’s how life should feel like, right? )

What’s life like after applying my Yin & Yang Method?

This is embarrassing, but I used to be somewhat of a choleric. I’d get cranky because of the tiniest and stupidest things in my day to day life. And if I got some bad news from, let’s say, the IRS? Well, my day was ruined, let’s put it that way…

And after including Qi Gong (among other things) into my life, I don’t have exactly the patience and calm of a monk… But I’m able to get out of most stressful situations and calm down quickly, instead of letting it ruin my day. 

Also, I just feel relaxed and full of energy after doing the meditations and exercises. Chances are high that something like Qi Gong can support you in your battle for a life with less stress.

Why not try it out for yourself? There’s just something special, soothing about Qi Gong. I can’t recommend it enough. My Qi Gong journey started with a translated german version of Kenneth Cohen’s “The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing”, from 1997.* 

Last thoughts

To clear up any possible misunderstandings: I’m not saying meditation and stomach breathing alone will make stress go away forever.

What I am saying is that this “Yin & Yang Method”, paying more attention to the mind as well, might be an unexpected and powerful ally in detaching yourself from the constant “rat race” and take back at least some control over your life.

More calmness and relaxation in our lives can make a huge difference for our stress levels and our health. It made a big difference for my life.

Want more? 

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*I do NOT get any commission of any sort (there also isn’t any link to make it traceable, anyway. You can purchase any books etc. you want). This is a genuine recommendation because of how much good it did for my life, after barely two months of reading and doing the exercises.

NOTE: Do check in with your doctor to see if Qi Gong is suited for your current health situation.

P.S. Bonus tip for reducing stress: There’s a plant called Ashwagandha used in Ayurvedic medicine. It helps you sleep better and studies have shown that it can reduce stress levels up to 29%. You can take it in powder form and mix it with your yoghurts, milk, cereals, smoothies… I love it.