CONTROL STRESS WITH EVERY BREATH
You won’t find a form of relaxation or meditation that doesn’t emphasise breathing. Breathing is one of the few essential activities that our body must do. Five minutes without breathing will put most people in critical danger. Adults take about 15 breaths a minute, or 900 breaths an hour, or more than 20,000 breaths a day. Breathing doesn’t just affect our physiology it also drives our psychology. Try this experiment with me:
Imagine that you’re being chased by a pack of wild dogs? How would you breathe? Imagine you are hiding in a cave from the pack hoping not to be discovered. Notice the tension in your body, the tension in your neck and how your breathing has become shallow and fast. Now it’s unlikely you’ll be chased by a pack of wolves.
This time imagine you’re late for an important meeting at work and stuck in traffic that isn’t moving. You’re listening to the radio and hearing about the latest mass shooting. Your phone is out of battery so you can’t call ahead, it’s a smoking hot day and, of course, your air-conditioning just stopped working. Bring your attention back to your breath. Did you notice that it was similar to the breathing pattern you adopted for fleeing from the dog pack? This panic breathing is the ‘go to’ when your body is under stress. The problem with this breathing is it can tighten your chest, back and neck muscles. Taking shallow breaths means you don’t get as much oxygen into your body, which your brain needs to make good decisions. Your brain thinks you’re being chased by wild dogs, which makes it harder to think clearly, and your gut stops digesting food because your body is in flight mode, not relax mode. Prolonged panic breathing can ruin your health.
No dogs or traffic jams this time. You’re on a beautiful Sunshine Coast beach and it’s a perfect day. You’re lying on the beach in the shade with the gentle sound of waves breaking on the shore. You don’t need to be anywhere but here. All you can feel is the warm sand under your towel and a light breeze. Notice how your breathing slows down. If you put a hand just below your ribs on your stomach you’ll notice that when you breathe in your belly expands and your hand is pushed out. Put your other hand on your upper chest. When you breathe in deeply your lower hand should move first followed by your top hand. This draws more air into your lungs and more oxygen into your body. Do 10 slow breaths feeling your hands rise and fall. Notice any changes in your level of stress? Slow breathing is one of the easiest, most effective ways to immediately change your stress levels. It’s such an easy and effective tool that is totally underutilised in our busy lives. Breathing is a simple, effective way of reducing your stress levels. We use breathing to help clients start their recovery at the end of an exercise session. We also encourage clients to breathe when they’re in stressful situations, and to help them digest their food. I challenge you to try 10 slow breaths just before you start your work day, and when you get home to see your family at the end of the day. With a clear, unstressed mind, it’s amazing how different the world can look. Hamish McMichael: Kaizen Health Centre – www.kaizenep.com.au