The most fundamental and powerful tool we have is our breath. As long as we live, it’s always with us. And it’s the probably one of the (if not the) most underused tools in our daily lives.
“Every emotion you experience has its own breathing pattern: anger produces rapid erratic breathing, sadness makes us sigh, and anxiety has a shallow rapid breathing pattern.”
We can greatly improve our health and well-being, and productivity when we understand our natural breathing patterns and tendencies when in distress.
What does breathing have to do with it?
This may sound far-fetched at first but think about it. When we’re under stress, one of the first things we “lose” is our breath. Our heart rate and blood pressure go up, and our breathing becomes shallow. Our sympathetic nervous system, the part of our nervous system that’s responsible for the fight or flight response, kicks into full gear to help us survive. The breath pattern associated with the fight or flight response is rapid and shallow with quick sips into the chest. It’s all needed as long as we’re in real danger.
In our society, however, our challenge is to teach ourselves to let go when the danger no longer exists. This is the tricky part. If we’re really honest with ourselves, in the workplace, the extent of feeling in danger is related to our egos, fears and psychological makeup. It’s really perceived danger based on our past experiences, expectations and beliefs, rather than real life-threatening situations. This sustained perceived danger–consciously or subconsciously–is putting many of us into sympathetic nervous system overdrive. So much so that some of us don’t even realize that functioning out of a place of perceived danger and stress has become our standard mode of operation. Rude behavior at work, anxiety, depression, exhaustion and loss in productivity are just a few signs that we’re out of balance—and, figuratively speaking, out of breath.
Find your breath
Our parasympathetic nervous system is our rest and relaxation agent. The sooner and more efficiently we can tap into this part of our nervous system, the better for our health and productivity. There are many ways to use your breath to recollect yourself; the below list is by no means exhaustive.
1. Identify your breath pattern when you’re calm
Pay attention to the location of your breath: do you tend to breathe into your chest or your abdomen? Observe if you breathe deeply or shallowly. Listen to hear if you tend to breathe fast or slowly, and if your inhales or exhales are longer.
2. Practice breathing into your abdomen
Take deep and slow breaths into your belly. Place one hand on your belly and the other one on your chest. Inhale through your nose and let your diaphragm inflate with air (not your chest) as you breathe into your abdomen for a count of four. Push your belly into your hand to welcome more air in. Count again to four as you exhale through your nose. No constriction of the throat, no forcing. You can increase the count to six or eight as you become more comfortable with this technique. Practice it upon wakening and before going to bed until it becomes second nature. Pay attention to each inhale and exhale—rest your attention on your breath and nothing else.Breath awareness is the first step in calming your mind. Click To Tweet
I’m not going to lie: those who are under constant stress will likely find this breathing technique difficult, even frustrating at first. I typically see people in this situation thinking they’re using abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing when in reality, they’re pushing the air in and out of their chest. But stay with it and it will become more natural with practice. Practicing this breath is a great way to start and end your day to relieve stress, which can help get a better grip on anxiety.
Bonus tip: once you have mastered the art of deep breathing, consider extending your exhales by one or two counts.
3. Add a mantra
Since sound touches our senses in the most delicate way (air vibrations to our eardrums), it has the ability to penetrate deep into our bodies and minds. When you’re inhaling and exhaling, consider adding a sound or a mantra (it can be your own creation). It doesn’t need to be loud, it may just be audible to you. For example, inhale “so”, exhale “hum”. This “I am that” technique is popular in yogic and ayurvedic traditions. Keep your attention on your breath and your mantra. I find that this technique works well for people who initially have a hard time focusing solely on their inhales and exhales. It gives your breath a good rhythm and helps quiet the chatter in the mind.
4. Set reminders
Take every opportunity to set reminders for yourself to check in with your breath. I like to tell people to make an appointment with themselves (I literally ask them to put it on their calendars), and change their passwords to include the word “breath”. It will be a constant reminder every time you log back into your computer. If you want more, leave reminder post-it’s in your work area or find creative ways to remember the art of the breath. On your way back to your desk from a meeting, stop by the bathroom to reconnect with your breath.Set reminders during the day to check in with your breath. Click To Tweet
Every time you breathe, the quality of your breath tells a story about the state of your well-being. So make it a long, deep and nourishing one!
Image by Ivan Samkov, Pexels