Awareness of our breath connects us to the way we move, the way we think, and the way we feel. The way we breathe reflects the way we live. Breathing is the only system in the body that works both unconsciously and, at the same time, can be consciously controlled. We can breathe away stress. We can breathe our minds into focus. We can breathe ourselves into the present moment. Or, we can use our breath to exaggerate our stress response and make things even worse—and let’s be honest, we’ve all done that!
Stress makes us do things that don’t serve us and stops us doing things that nourish us. It makes us say things we don’t mean to those closest to us, and ruins the most precious of moments. And yet, we have the most advanced stress-reduction technology in the world with us whenever we need it. Not our phones, our breath.
Listen to your breath. It will tell you when you need to refocus or rest. Unlike your mind, it only has one agenda, to look after you the best it can. Make your breath your constant companion and it really will be your best friend forever.
Here are some practical ways to breathe yourself better every day.
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist and poet
Breathe like a baby. Babies are the best breathers. They haven’t learnt any bad habits yet and they use their physiology efficiently, as nature intended. As such, they breathe from their bellies, which is 20 per cent more energy efficient. They breathe through their noses. They breathe out longer to calm down. Try it now:
1. Breathe in from the belly through the nose to a count of four.
2. Breathe out from the belly through the nose to a count of six.
3. Repeat until you feel just right.
Breathing at this rhythm of six breaths per minute has been shown to optimize the impact on your physiology.
Simple, alternate nostril breathing balances the flow of the breath from one nostril to the other, creating focus and harmony. Use your right hand to open and close the nostrils, using the thumb on the right nostril and the ring finger on the left one. (Tip: fold the index and middle fingers into the palm of your hand.) Research in India has also shown a connection with the healthy functioning of the autonomic nervous system. Try it now:
1. Close the right nostril and exhale completely out the left.
2. Inhale through the left nostril to a count of 4.
3. Exhale through the right nostril to a count of 6.
4. Inhale through the right nostril.
5. Exhale through the left nostril.
6. Continue as above for a few minutes.
Our attention spans are decreasing. We are finding it harder and harder to focus. Goldfish have attention spans of around nine seconds. Sadly, according to the New York Times, humans now have only eight. Luckily we can regain control of the ability to focus better. Simply counting breaths can train your mind to not only pay more attention but also to recover faster from distractions, and before you know it you will be in a state of meditation without even trying to be. Find a quiet spot and try this:
1. Count both your inhalations and exhalations from 40 down to 20.
2. Count just your exhalations from 20 down to zero.
3. Just follow your breath for a few minutes.
The states of our mind and our breath are linked. At the end of our in-and-out breaths there are little pauses. Slightly lengthen them. Notice them. Observe what happens in your mind. As your breath stills, so does your mind. Next time you find your mind racing, notice these gaps. Finding some mental space can help you move on more clearly. Why not use these natural pauses to also remind you to take more breaks in your day? Research shows that people who take regular short breaks of around 15 minutes every hour are more productive than those who just keep going.
We can go days without food, hours without water but only minutes without breath. Breathing is our main source of energy. However, when we face a big challenge, need courage or are in a period of mental or physical recovery, we probably need some really deep breaths. Don’t forget to completely exhale though, as if no matter how much you breath in, without that long exhale you will not be using your breath to your full capacity.
1. Breathe in to a count of six from the belly, to the chest and above.
2. Breathe out slowly with control to a count of 12.
3. Practice three rounds.
Our breath is perhaps the greatest connector of all. It connects us to our planet. When we breathe out, plants breathe in. Our breath connects our bodies with our minds – when we slow down, we think better.
What would your day be like if you made every breath just a little bit better? Try this:
When you wake-up: Get up! Sit up on your bed. Take 10 deep mindful breaths from the belly.
Breakfast: Sit down to eat. Close your eyes and take one deep breath being thankful for the food in front of you.
On the way to work: Practice counting your breaths to train your attention.
In your first meeting: Close your eyes and do three guided breaths together with your colleagues. It will bring you closer together, and that’s always good for business.
At lunchtime: Sit somewhere away from your desk and preferably outside (weather permitting). Close your eyes and eat your first mouthful slowly, savouring the flavours and textures. Now take one mindful breath with awareness.
Afternoon tea: Stopping is often the most productive thing you can do. Give your mind a rest. Create your own tea ceremony. Take time. Make it beautiful. And breathe…
With friends: Give someone a big hug. Heart to heart. Hold them a little longer. Breathe with them. Really feel being with them. Look into their eyes and smile.
Before bed: Sit for a few minutes. Let the thoughts of the day come and go. Return to your breath. How does it feel? If you have trouble sleeping, breathe like a baby and you might also sleep like one.
As well as coaching yoga, mindfulness and productivity I am the founder of BreatheSync, a biofeedback breathing app that syncs your breathing and heart to help you focus and relax quickly. This month we are delighted to feature a lovely new theme created with the lululemon team. Click here give it a go.