What if I told you that, in order to relieve stress through something as simple as your breathing, all you have to do is make yourself look pregnant? Yeah, you heard me: I'm not talking about literal pregnancy, though, so don't freak out just yet. Rather, I'm talking about the secret to meditative breathing, which lies in the ability to let go of any self consciousness you might have about the way you sound, or the way you look, and allowing your belly to hang out and take up as much space as possible. Think you're up for the challenge?
According to Dr. Belisa Vranich a renowned clinical psychologist, public speaker, and author of the book Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health, fear and vulnerability often prevent women from fully engaging in and benefiting from their breathing practice. "We don't want to let our bellies go because in every image of beauty we see, there's a narrow waistline," she tells me in a phone interview. In this sense, she adds, "the media plays a big role in restricting our breathing."
Of course, you might not even realize you're holding back in this way when you focus on your breathing during meditation, or even when you're taking deep inhales and exhales in a moment of stress to calm yourself down. As Dr. Vranich tells Elite Daily, a lot of that tension you hold on to is psychological.
"When life is tough, you brace," she explains. "And when someone tells you to let go, you're resistant because bracing through stress is how you've learned how to cope — it helps you feel protected."
The way Dr. Vranich sees it, in order to really engage with your breathing, you have to remind yourself of, and harness, the power that lies in vulnerability — in letting your belly go completely. Because in the end, she says, it'll make you stronger. "If you're breathing right (aka breathing with the lower part of your body so that your stomach expands and contracts), your core is going to get stronger," the psychologist explains. "Learning to let it all go and relax on the inhale, and engage your midsection on the exhale, you're making the inside of your core really strong."
Plus, according to Dr. Vranich, people often focus so much on the inhale during meditation, that they forget about the importance of the exhale. That's because many people tend to associate exhalations with "letting go," the psychologist explains. "But exhaling means letting go with your brain," she says. "Like let go of anger or sadness. [In this case], it doesn't mean let go of your belly."
Rather, Dr. Vranich tells Elite Daily, you should physically "let things go" on your inhale — aka puff your stomach all the way out, and let your belly hang free, to its roundest potential. On the exhale, she explains, that's when you should engage and squeeze your midsection.
Of course, this will take a bit of practice — you'll have to consciously train yourself at first to really puff out on the inhales and squeeze on your exhales. But, according to Dr. Vranich, once you realize just how much stronger and more satisfied this type of breathing makes you feel, it'll be much easier to let go of any preconceived notions you might have about what you look like, or how loud your exhale is — in a sense, you'll "un-learn" those self-doubts, Dr. Vranich tells Elite Daily. And in fact, this type of deep breathing quickly starts to feel more natural, she says. "When you were 5 years old, this is how you breathed," the psychologist explains. "Breathing this way is how your body is designed, all the way from birth."
While this breathing technique is an amazing way to find your center during meditation, Dr. Vranich recommends doing it whenever you remember to — "as often as you think about it," she says. "Normally, we just sip: We take a little bit of air in, and let a little air out. When you don't pay attention, you're probably breathing in about two tablespoons of air. As often as you can, try to remember to inhale and exhale an entire cup of air," she explains.
Remind yourself to breathe expansively like this whenever you can, but especially in those moments when you could really use it, like before a big exam at school, before a job interview, if you're feeling anxious when going to bed, or if you could simply use an extra does of self-love and confidence on a bad day.
"At the end of the day, the goal is to have more self-love," Dr. Vranich says. "The most loving thing you could do is inhale without judgment, and give yourself a big, wide belly, and then exhale, and give yourself a squeeze, releasing all that air."