Breathwork for Stress and Back Pain

Breathwork for Stress and Back Pain
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If you are someone who suffers from back pain that is aggravated by stress, these breathwork exercises will help. Breathwork—also called pranayama in yoga—involves controlled breathing. These breathing exercises are meant to create a sense of relaxation. They aim to slow the heart rate down and promote a feeling of calm. Although they are calming, you will probably find they also energize you. They are all great ways to let go of mental stress and clear your head. These breathwork exercises bring the advice ‘take a few deep breaths’ to the next level.

Stress and Back Pain

breathwork stress back painThe link between stress and back pain is clear. For some people, back pain is the result of ‘storing’ mental stress in the back. This is sometimes referred to as psychosomatic back pain. It is common for this tension to be felt in the low back. This is because many people have weak low back muscles and core muscles. The low back is the most mobile part of the spine and, thus, the most likely part of the back to experience strain. In other cases, mental stress can trigger or aggravate preexisting back pain. Whatever the circumstances of your back pain are, these breathing exercises will help to reduce stress.

Breathwork for Relaxation

These breathwork exercises are meant to calm the mind and relax the body. They are best done either seated or lying down. Unless otherwise indicated, you may find it beneficial to place your hands on your belly. Alternately, you can place one hand on your belly and one over your heart. These exercises can also be done in your day to day life. Try them before a meeting or when you are stuck in traffic. It will only take a few minutes for you to experience a shift in your level of stress.

Pranayama

In yoga, pranayama often refers to breathing with a balanced inhale and exhale. Do this breathwork exercise sitting still or incorporate movement. For example, lift the arms overhead on the inhale and release them to your sides on the exhale.

  • Inhale for a count of 4-3-2-1
  • Exhale for a count of 4-3-2-1

You can increase the length of each cycle of breath as you feel comfortable. Counting is a good way to trick the mind into focusing on something. This focus ultimately clears mental clutter and promotes a feeling of calm.

Square Breathing

Square breathing involves inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling and then holding empty for an equal amount of time.

  • Inhale deeply and slowly for a count of 4-3-2-1
  • Hold your breath for a count of 4-3-2-1
  • Exhale evenly and slowly for a count of 4-3-2-1
  • Hold empty for a count of 4-3-2-1

Repeat for at least five rounds of breath. You can increase the length of each step as you feel comfortable.

Ascending Breathing

This breathwork exercise is great if you need to ease yourself into slow, deep breathing. You simply add a count on to each new breath. Counting gives your mind something to do as well. This can help you to shift your focus from whatever is causing you stress to something more calming.

  • Inhale for a count of 3-2-1
  • Exhale for a count of 3-2-1
  • Inhale for a count of 4-3-2-1
  • Exhale for a count of 4-3-2-1
  • Inhale for a count of 5-4-3-2-1
  • Exhale for a count of 5-4-3-2-1
  • Inhale for a count of 6-5-4-3-2-1
  • Exhale for a count of 6-5-4-3-2-1
  • Inhale for a count of 7-6-5-4-3-2-1
  • Exhale for a count of 7-6-5-4-3-2-1

Repeat for at least five rounds of breath. If you want to incorporate square breathing into this exercise you can.

The Science Behind Breathwork

When you breathe deeply, you feel relaxed. This is because deep breathing sends a signal to the brain that says you are safe. A feeling of safety switches on the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the ‘rest and digest’ nervous system. Opposite to that is the sympathetic—’fight or flight’—nervous system. Rapid, shallow breathing tends to activate this quick response system. When you experience stress, the body thinks it is in danger and thus sends blood to the muscles and vital organs. This is only ever meant to be a quick fix. Constant stress—whether real or perceived—is unhealthy for the body. More than that, it does not feel good to be in a constant state of stress. By incorporating these breathwork exercises into your day, you will notice decreased levels of stress. This, in turn, will mean decreased levels of back pain. So, go ahead, take a few deep breaths.

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