Denyse Le Fever

| 02/28/2017

Feeling Stressed? Pause, Take a Breath

Feeling Stressed? Pause, Take a Breath

The American Psychological Association conducts surveys to determine sources of stress and its impact on Americans in the US. While reported stress levels, overall, were gradually decreasing over the past decade, recent polls in August 2016 and January 2017 found an increasing rise of reported stress attributed to political and cultural discussions on social media.

This survey concluded that the uncertainty in the geopolitical environment contributed to increased stress in the US participants surveyed in the Harris Poll. This is not good news for our citizen’s physical or emotional health. Prolonged stress can lead to other more serious health issues.

Many medical studies have concluded that stress is a major contributor to at least 10 different conditions. According to Web, MD these include: Heart disease, Asthma, Obesity, Diabetes, Headaches, Depression, Gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s disease, Accelerated aging and Premature death.

The good news is our relationship with stress can be controlled. Many healthy habits can help reduce the impact that stress causes. Getting a good night sleep, eating well-balanced meals, and taking breaks from unnerving news, social media or other daily stressors can help our overall wellbeing.

While some stress can be beneficial to keep us motivated or spur us into action, living in a constant state of stress can wreck havoc on our mental and physical health. Yoga teaches us that stress occurs when we are out of balance on either a mental, physical or emotional level. The cause of stress is our inability to cope with a changing situation. Living with too much stress causes our nervous system to be in a state of fight or flight. To bring ourselves back into balance, we need time to rest and digest.

With awareness and recognition of what is causing our stress, relief could just be a breath away. In my early 50s, I became aware that my Type A characteristics were causing some health issues that were the result of decades of mindless stress accumulation. My focus was on the job at hand and my mantra was “push through it.” After a stressful job change and move from a rural to urban lifestyle, I realized this mantra would no longer serve me. I turned to yoga, which had helped me to cope with stress decades earlier. When I returned to yoga in my new setting in Northern Virginia, I was surprised by how hard it was to still my mind. The familiar stretching movements invigorated me, but I found pauses and relaxation to be excruciating. In the final relaxation pose at the end of each class, my mind ticked off my “to do list”. Yet, I persisted and gradually began to find calmness one breath at a time. As I became more focused on each Inhalation and Exhalation, I experienced myself coming back into balance.

Focused breathing practices are diverse and varied. A simple practice that can be done anywhere or at any time, is observing your breath. This is especially helpful when you are feeling stressed. Pause and begin to notice your breath. As you observe the inhalation and exhalation, just note the sensation and quality of your breath. Is your breath long or short? Are the inhalations and exhalations even in length? Where do you feel the breath in the body? Take a pause and just count each in breath and out breath up to 10 total. Observe and note how you are feeling. Overtime, a focused breathing practice can help you to develop a different level of self-awareness. You may find this breathing pause can be a welcome focus on a busy day.

For a more focused breathing practice, the Three-Part Breath, from the Yoga tradition, can still the mind and emotions. This practice can either be done seated or lying on your back. In either case, make sure you are in a comfortable position. If you are seated in a chair, sit up straight with the feet on the floor.

Inhale deeply and exhale completely through the nose. Place the palms of the hands lightly on the belly. Notice the belly as it contracts as you exhale. Inhale. Notice the belly rising into the palms of the hands. Repeat this cycle for up to 10 breaths. Then bring the hands to the upper chest area, just below the breasts. Again, notice how the chest expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. Take up to 10 focused breaths into this area of the body. Finally, bring the hands to the upper chest at the collarbones. Notice the body’s expansion as you inhale and contraction as you exhale. Focus and repeat this cycle for up to 10 breaths. Relax the hands and breathe normally. Notice any difference in your physical or emotional state.

While stress is a normal part of life, it doesn’t have to control you. If you find yourself having emotional reactions to social media, take a break from it. Along with other healthy habits, a daily breath practice can bring more calm, focus and perhaps, years to your life.

Denyse Le Fever is a yoga teacher living in Falls Church, VA. As a recovering workaholic, she has learned, first hand, the benefit of focusing on one breath at a time. To learn more about Denyse, please visit her website at


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