What’s free, lowers your heart rate, takes up no space, and detoxifies?
Your breath, of course.
But can you remember the last time you thought about breathing? It was probably when you were short of it, congested, or swimming, right?
Although you take it for granted, the breath deserves your attention. It’s less ho-hum than it seems.
According to a Yogi Tea bag I saw last week, “The voice of your soul is breath.” It rings true to me. I love the idea that how you breathe is an indication of what's happening inside, a reflection of your inner world.
But even if you’re unwilling to go that far, your breath still keeps you alive while you barely give it the time of day. So, credit where it's due.
We're all familiar with the benefits of deep breathing. It releases endorphins. By improving circulation it provides more oxygen, leading to increased energy. Most importantly, long, slow breaths combat stress, which magnifies, intensifies, and worsens everything.
Other perks: since it’s built in, it’s unloseable. One less thing to remember! And it’s so simple to use it’s instinctual. Plus, it’s weightless, so no need to hire movers.
Breathing is both involuntary and voluntary, an oddball fact giving it a sneaky benefit: whenever we decide, we can change how we breathe. With finessing and attention, conscious breath can become an instant, embedded, 100% accurate emotional-feedback machine.
Here are four excellent techniques from the Chopra Center to trigger breath awareness: deep belly breaths, Ujjayi breath, alternate nostril breathing (not as gross as it sounds), and Kapalabhati, a fun and hypnotic energizing breath.
Fine, Julia, you say. I’m sold. But how can I remember in situations where I can barely think, let alone evaluate my breathing?
- Designate a time. Just like any appointment, deep breathing time is scheduled and respected. Try two, five-minute sessions per day. If you’re feeling ambitious, gradually increase them to 10-minute rounds.
- Choose a cue. Breathe consciously at each red light or during every subway stop. Any predictable, repeated, essentially boring, experience will work. In fact, conscious breathing may mitigate frustration from those very activities.
- Make a sound when you're annoyed. Remember Carrie Mathison’s intense sighs throughout season one of Homeland? I do. I inadvertently adopted them to keep my jaw loose. But this suggestion doubles as encouragement to notice your breathing. After all, if you’re irritated, you’re probably inhaling short, intense breaths.
- Outsource it to an app. With the Breathe mindfulness app you decide how many “breathers” you want and set a time range. You can customize messages to appear in the notification and include emojis.
- However, let’s be real. If you’re at all like me, you set alarms on your phone, but when they ding, you think, “Yeah, ok. In a sec.” And ignore them. With Breathe, I’m following through and taking the damn breather when it appears on screen every day for a week. Download it and join the experiment!
- See your breath for what it is. Breath is a given and we mostly treat it as such. But that's a shame. Because controlling it is actually a superpower. You, right now, regardless of annual income, relationship status, or gardening ability, have the ability to calm yourself down and refocus your mind, helping it get a grip. My hunch is once you feel the effects of breath awareness you’ll see it as the opportunity it is.
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