A little stress-relief, anyone? We thought we’d share an article to help you find your calm today – this was written by our own Peggy Burt, and originally published in the October edition of the La Canada Flintridge Neighbors Magazine. We hope you’ll enjoy it with a few slow, relaxing breaths.

It’s all about the breath.

LaCanadaNeighborsImageTake a deep breath in. And now, take a long, slow exhale out. Take two more, and see if you can match the length of your inhale to the length of your exhale…

So begins a calming moment of breathing with conscious awareness. This life-giving breath is something that’s always there with us, but how often do we notice it in the midst of our hectic daily lives?

It’s not our fault – our bodies are set up to react and protect us from threats. Our ancient ancestors faced saber tooth tigers and other wild beasts, so we humans developed the ability to respond swiftly and strongly to problems. As described by the Mayo Clinic, “When you encounter a perceived threat – your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. This system prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.” (Mayoclinic.org)

This response serves us well when we truly are threatened. In a healthy body, after the threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal, the heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

But, when stressors are always present, and you constantly feel under attack, that defensive reaction – called “fight-or-flight” – stays perpetually turned on.

Many of today’s threats may not sound as life-and-death as saber tooth tigers, but our stressors tend to be more chronic – things like financial insecurity, alarms that jolt us out of bed, too much traffic, tension at work or home, or the loneliness and health concerns of aging. This ongoing state of stress can lead to such maladies as anxiety and depression, digestive disorders, heart disease, headaches, sleeping difficulties and memory/concentration impairment. Yikes!

The good news is that relief may be closer than you think. Remember the breath, and how it’s always there with you? The simple practice of breath awareness can be transformational, which is one reason why taking time for yoga and meditation can really help to alleviate the troubling effects of stress. As we enter into a mindful practice of paying attention to our breath, we create an environment for better health.

This works because calm breathing actually changes our physiological state! The act of bringing awareness to our breathing invokes the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows us to “rest and digest” rather than being in the heightened state of fight or flight.

Often, just spending time in a peaceful yoga studio, or practicing walking meditation out in nature can help us shift away from stressful thoughts. And, while the physical practice of yoga certainly helps wring the tension out of our muscles, what is even more profound is the greater sense of well-being that emerges over time from your mindful movement and breath.

So, the next time you feel worried, rushed or anxious, take a few mindful moments to pay attention to your breath, and feel the relief!

Peggy Burt teaches yoga, labyrinth walking meditation, and more at Spiral Path Yoga Center in La Crescenta, where she is Co-Owner. Join her for a class and start your practice of mindful breathing!