Just Breathe

Smile, breathe and go slowly. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I had a particularly difficult year at work, which I described as the year I went to work and forgot to breathe. It was the only way I could communicate how busy I was - I didn’t remember even breathing. Of course I was breathing, but I guarantee that I was breathing in a way that only added to my stress. I have heard that we are a nation of "shallow breathers." I would venture to say that "anxious" is the new "normal." The two are essentially the same.

If you have been reading my blog (thank you!), you may notice that so far, I have talked about bagging things from your to do list, letting go of control and doing nothing. Now I am asking you breathe (As your life coach, I am so demanding! Next thing you know, I'll be asking you to sleep...You think I'm kidding)! You may be thinking that life is much more complicated than this. Is it? If you think everything around you is falling apart, come back to your breath. Good things come into your life when you just breathe (but more about that in my next post)…For now, here’s how to do it:

  • Breathe through your nose. Our nostrils are lined with hair that filters out dust and dirt and other particles (like tiny insects!) that can hurt our lungs. This is only the first of about four lines of defense in the nasal passages. Conversely, mouth breathing does not involve the same set of filters. Nose breathing also maintains the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. When we breathe through our mouths, we tend to inhale and exhale large volumes of air quickly (as in hyperventilation). This leads to reduced levels of oxygen being carried by our blood to our cells, including brain cells. This lack of oxygen triggers our sympathetic nervous system (remember from biology?), our “flight or fight” responses of tension, anxiety, irritability, and depression. This makes it difficult to think clearly and detach from obsessive thoughts. Nose breathing invites participation of the parasympathetic nervous system which slows heart rate and calms, relaxes, and soothes us.
  • Breathe deeply. Not only does breathing supply our bodies with vital oxygen, it also eliminates toxins and waste from the body. In the March 2009 issue of Body + Soul magazine, Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that we start deep breathing by focusing on breathing out: Practice “squeezing’ at the end of every exhale. This will automatically increase our inhalation. I also like Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breath. In her book, Happy For No Reason, Marci Shimoff suggests putting our hands on our stomachs as we breathe. If we’re breathing deeply from our stomachs, our hands will go out on the inhale and back on the exhale.
  • Sit up, relax facial muscles and move eyes, and laugh. A hunched, tense posture results in reduced lung capacity and restricted breathing muscles. Tense facial muscles and locked eyes (on a computer screen) lead to shallow breathing (and make us look older). Laughing encourages healthy breathing and clears old air out of the lungs.

Shallow breathing has been linked to fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, and hypertension, among other problems. Deep breathing is said to enhance digestion, reduce the work load of the heart, help with weight management and hot flashes, and of course, relax the body and mind. Need any more reason to just breathe?

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