I’ve been reminded by a close friend and colleague of the importance of breathing. And I see it all the time in the treatment room, and in my life – lack of breathing. It’s so important that I’ve even written about it before. Breathing is something we do so unconsciously we do not even think about it; and in some cases we even forget to breathe altogether – we’re accidentally holding our breath. Here’s the thing though, mindful breathing can change everything about how I am able to show up in any given day. Then, make it a mindful deep breath and well…I could change the world!
Also when the rubber hits the road and things are a bit shitty, that deep breath can help you stay the course and get through the tough times you are bearing.
So let’s talk about what breathing can really look like when it’s not just an involuntary stay-alive response…
A truly nourishing, deep, mindful breath:
- Fills up the top of your chest cavity
- Fills the lower belly (that’s even to below the belly button)
- Expands backwards out into your shoulders and underneath your shoulder blades
- Reaches deep into your low back below and behind the kidneys
- Fills up even the back of your sinus cavities and relaxes your throat
- Comes in through your nose and exits either through your nose or mouth
Most of us are walking around taking these short mini breaths into just the top of our chest, they are speedy and frankly unsatisfying. Sometimes I wonder about who Frank is…how did we get to the saying, “frankly”? But I digress…We’re also walking around with a lot tension in our shoulders, our necks, our jaws and even our pelvis’ to name just a few spots. And given that each of us require adequate oxygen to sustain life, these piddly little breaths are just not doing the job! No wonder I am a stress-ball of tension! I am not getting enough oxygen to each of my brain cells and to the tips of my toes to keep alive! I bet my body thinks its grasping on for air as if I am hanging from the roof of a 10 story building! No wonder we’re an adrenally fatigued, cortisol (aka ‘the stress hormone’) addicted culture of people – we’re forgetting to breathe! And so yes, we are in fight or flight all too often and somewhere deep in our physiology think we are being chased by a tiger…all of the time.
Taking a moment to practice mindful deep breathing helps to relax all of this, and calls us back to the present moment. This takes us out of fight or flight and moves us into rest and digest, otherwise known as our parasympathetic nervous system. Luckily, we need not be in a fight or flight mode to actually accomplish all of the cool stuff we are up too. We can be just as effective – if not even more so – at work, at home, with friends and with family when we are calm and when our body chemistry is flowing easily.
For fun, here is a quick read on the nervous system which describes the whole fight/flight, rest/digest thing!
So, when I pause to breathe on purpose the world goes quiet; for just a moment things are still and peaceful and there is no where else I can be except right here and now. Everything suspends and I can start back up again from a place of quietude and calmness, with a body that is relaxed, open and prepared. I am more rooted, the winds of life will not blow me over. From here, I can take on anything.
There’s a gazillion bits of information out there on how breathing makes a difference in this whole nervous system gig, here’s a great piece on the subject.
You might be wondering at this point, just how am I going to get good at this breathing thing? Lucky for you, I’ve got a few tips about how to practice deep breathing Key word practice: this is something you can start out at as a beginner and rehearse for improvement for years to come! Just like the piano, or soccer:
- Just in case you’re not even sure you know how to breathe deeply – check out this hilarious music video, compliments of Sesame Street.
- Make a habit of taking deep belly breaths at every red light you sit at (driver or not). Public transit rider? Take your breaths at metro stops.
- When you are in the shower or bath, pause for 3 on-purpose breaths before getting out and toweling off.
- After your morning wake-up alarm sit up in bed and place your feet on the floor. Start the day with 5 deep breaths before you get off of the bed.
- Line at the grocery store (or Costco – wow, that’s always a long one)? Put your cell phone down, ignore the magazines and practice breathing instead.
- Before a meeting, presentation or anything big you have going on take a moment to pause and breathe first. You can even set an alarm on your calendar to line up with these events; just give yourself an extra 30 seconds to arrive at the table before go time.
- And my personal favorite: recruit a breathing buddy! Take turns texting, calling or in-person reminding each other to take a breath. Make it a game and see who can provide the most creative reminders.