25th July 2003 at 01:00
Roxanne Clark explains how to breathe easy

The most simple and effective tool you have to manage stress is your breath. By observing and harnessing it, you can learn to control your stress response and remain calm in the most trying situations.

The next time you're feeling anxious - perhaps when a new class look restless - notice what's happened to your breathing. You're probably holding your breath or it has become very shallow.

It is difficult to imagine how you can get through the day virtually holding your breath. But you can - it just leaves you feeling tense, stressed and exhausted.

Shallow chest breathing puts a lot of strain on the heart and affects the amount of oxygen being pumped around the body. Hyperventilation (over-breathing), which occurs during extreme stress, can also become habitual and cause dizziness, fainting, sweating, numbness, palpitations and chest pain.

Turn your attention inward and check your breathing; the shallower and faster it is, the more stressed you are. Calm, steady and rhythmic breathing promotes inner ease and balance, and invites a deep sense of relaxation.

To calm down during a stressful situation at work:

* Place one hand over your lower belly to centre yourself.

* Focus on your breath and breathe in through your nose, expanding your belly as you do so.

* As you exhale, let go of the breath through your mouth as if you are sighing heavily, completely letting go of your breath. Repeat three times.

* Now breathe in through your nose to a slow steady count of four, six or eight (depending on your lung capacity, which will increase with practice).

Hold your breath for a count of the same amount.

* Exhale steadily to the same count. Don't force inhalation or exhalation.

* Repeat for eight breaths.

Practise this exercise regularly and it will become much easier and spontaneous.

Roxanne Clark teaches yoga with Pilates and holistic stress management in business, adult education and schools. Contact:

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