What was the first thing you did when you woke up this morning?
Check your phone? No.
Take a sip of water? No.
The first thing you did this morning was the first thing you’ve done every morning since you were born. It was the same thing you did last night right before you fell asleep, and it’s the same thing you’re doing right now.
You took a breath.
Breathing is the simplest, most vital function of the human body. In a clumsy metaphor it is the gas that fuels the engine that is our bodies. I bet you spend more time thinking about filling up your car than you do about fueling your body.
For some reason the most important aspects of our lives are the ones we tend to take for granted.
Each breathing pattern has a corresponding emotional pattern attached to it. If you are stressed and anxious your breath will be shallow and rapid. It is a mental and physical cycle that only reinforces itself until you consciously break it.
It’s easy to notice if you are paying attention.
The next time you are in a stressful or uncomfortable situation, take one second to notice how you breathe. The next time you see someone you dislike or have to have an uncomfortable conversation bring your attention to your breath. I would imagine you are either breathing in short, uncontrollable bursts or not breathing at all.
As a Personal Trainer I see this happen every darn day. I hand someone a heavier weight than they are used to and tell them to perform an exercise. By the fifth rep they are red faced and I have to scream “BREATHE!”
Their lack of breathing is harming both their mental response to the stress of the situation and their physical performance. They let the distress overwhelm their entire mind. They focus only on what is hard and out of their control (the heavier weight), as opposed to their ability and what they can control (their breathing and resiliency).
We tend to forget the most basic of functions when presented with a difficult or stressful situation.
It stands to reason that if we can calm the breath in a stressful situation we can calm the mind. I’m sure no one would argue with that logic, not even my over-caffeinated friend Joe. Calming the breath is not that difficult. It simply takes the wherewithal to notice.
The first step is to be aware of your overcompensated or emotional breathing pattern.
The second step is to simply take in a long inhale through the nose. Count to 3 or 4 or 5. Breathe deeply into your lungs, your stomach should be rising, not your chest. Now hold the breath there for the same amount of time. Simply exhale with the same tempo. Repeat this until you feel your heart rate drop and your mind calm. This whole process should take anywhere from 12-20 seconds at first, but longer as you become more practiced.
During this process you should focus on one of two things. You should either try to “follow” your breath through your body- focus solely on feeling your nose inhale and then your lungs fill. Or you can focus on counting. Don’t focus on your current predicament for a couple of seconds. Bring your attention to something immediately tangible.
Here’s my challenge for you. The next time you are in a situation where you feel your heart rate explode or your fists clench I want you to practice this technique. Whether you are overcome with anger, anxiety or any other negative emotion. If you’re alone close your eyes and take a 10-20 second break to inhale slowly through your nose and exhale just as slowly through your mouth. If you’re not alone keep your eyes open and do the same. Repeat as many times as necessary.
Make a note of how you feel after you control your breathing. Tell me about it. Send me a text, an e-mail or post it in these comments. I want to know your experience, and I want you to see how easy this process is. You might feel light-headed at first, you might not feel any benefit at all. I don’t care. Try it.
A process this simple is bound to be overlooked. You don’t even need to be told to do this- you already know that slowing and controlling your breathing will lead to immediate mental benefits. It is the most basic form of self-control and mental discipline.
Meditation is popular in many forms, and its benefits are espoused by people of varying degrees of annoyance. Your yoga instructor who tells you to breathe with your heart, that guy who drives a VW with a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker, even Navy SEALS talk about “Box Breathing”. It doesn’t matter what camp you fall into. Meditation is simply a tool used to teach people to be aware of their breath and how to control it. If you can learn these basic skills you can experience all the benefits of meditation in a much shorter time.
Learn to master your breath and you can begin to master your mind.
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