Pause the panic mode
You know when you’re getting really pissed off, anxious, or stressed, and someone says, “It’s OK, just take a deep breath”?
Sometimes, you want to smack the person.
Even so, you suspect that advice is spot-on, and that your emotional hubbub (Too many application essays, anyone? Computer stalling, anyone? Fridge has no food again, anyone? Relatives grating at you, anyone?) could get quietly derailed.
But in the moment, when you’re stuck in shallow breathing (and maybe shallow thinking), “Take a deep breath” is annoying to hear, and for whatever reason hard to remember to do. Even though it’s the easiest– and actually most helpful– thing of all (and free–did we say free?).
Plus, maybe you don’t know how. Really how.
These trying moments of intensity can be greeted as opportunities for taking– or learning to take, or finding value in taking– a deep breath. I have to relearn this lesson all the time.
So get your big breath on
If you’ve never been shown otherwise, you might take a deep breath by puffing up your chest while tensing your jaw and shoulders, and leave it at that.
No bueno. Instead, read on to learn what that well-meaning correct-but-pain-in-your-ass person could have instructed you to do– a gift you can give yourself right now, and every day from now on, if you so choose.
How can you get that restorative, revitalizing deep breath?
You know, the one that makes all your problems (momentarily) go away?
Well, it’s not just your chest you want to move, even though that’s the part of our bodies we most closely associate with breathing. In fact, it’s more helpful if you think your lungs are in your belly. Your diaphragm will pull down the lower lobes of your lungs, and your blood, brain and spirit will be richer for it. Your parasympathetic nervous system, the function that allows you to relax, will give you a full-bodied thumbs-up.
Here’s the triumvirate of breathing exercises
Try it according to my simple instructions, because it takes virtually no time at all, asks little of you but focus and some counting, and can deliver benefits in spades.
Wherever you are:
Settle. (Spine should be tall, but not tensely so).
If you’re comfortable doing so, place one hand lightly and inquisitively on your belly area, the other on your chest.
Breath however you normally would just to check that out.
Then breath out through the mouth.
Follow the sequence here for 5 rounds. Each set your respiration is in the ratio 4:7:8.
Take a breath in through the nose, mentally counting to four.
Hold the breath, mentally counting to seven.
Exhale through the mouth, mentally counting to eight.
Nose in: for a count of four.
Hold without strain: for a count of seven.
Mouth out: for a count of eight.
Be filled: four.
Be full: seven.
Be released: eight.
Notice that by the end you are the recipient of your breath, rather than the one “doing” the breathing. This semantic shift is on purpose.
Now go write. (And if your breath clenches up again just anticipating it, contact us.)
Are you a resource nerd?
Check out these sites for the benefits of and instruction in proper deep breaths for your whole body.
This Psych Central article gives more info on how deep breathing delivers the goods.
Renowned Dr. Weil can help you with these three breathing styles.
And a yoga-nuanced version, for the yogically inclined, via Richard Freeman.
And finally, Awaken the Soul Qi Gong instruction, for those who want their breath to be linked to the whole, loving cosmos (why not?) with Master Li. (Because why play small, really? Hunh, lost you on that one? He won’t.)