With the holidays coming up many of us find our minds particularly busy, and it's easy to get caught up in the stress. I think this is a great time to remember the fundamentals of deep breathing, both as part of our meditation and just throughout our day. Science has proven again and again that simply taking a few deep belly breaths can halt the momentum of stress chemicals building up in our system.
Whenever we are stressed, our breathing constricts, and we begin to breathe more in our chests, with smaller, shorter breaths. Stress triggers different coping mechanisms, and for many of us (myself included) our minds become busy, spinning through all of our worries or ways we can get everything done (other people space out or 'escape', so it's helpful to think about what your reactions to stress are.) As we do this, we trigger the release of stress chemicals - adrenaline and cortisol among others - in our system, and then it becomes a cycle, because these cause more constriction and tension in our mind and body.
Deep belly breaths, where we expand our belly on the inhale and relax on the exhale, can break this cycle. It causes us to take more air into our lungs, which begins to relax our body, and that in turn slows the momentum of stress chemicals. 2-3 deep belly breaths at any time can really help deal with stress, and doing a series of deep breaths before meditation can really help start your meditation off on the right foot.