Submitted by Allison Allen
So, you know how sometimes you get all wrapped up in something and really dive in. Then at some point you step back and take stock…and realize you have skipped something really basic. But really important! Well, I was reading through all my previous missives to all y’all, you know, to help me fall asleep one night, and it dawned on me – not a single one pertains to breathing. Ack! And I call myself a mindfulness guru! Ok, I totally DO NOT call myself a “mindfulness guru” and it’s a good thing I don’t! Better breathing is really, and truly, at the very foundation of our sense of wellbeing and I cannot believe I have not dedicated one of these emails to it. Well that all changes today.
If you have watched my video on why breathing matters (and really, who among you has not!) then you already know that if you google “breathing” and “special forces” you will get a LOT of hits. Breathing is not just for the meditation practicing, yoga loving vegan crowd. Why? Because it really, really works.
Works at what? Well, it calms us down, it clears our mind, it increases our energy level, and it makes us better problem solvers. It steadies us and supports our basic resilience in the face of stress. It creates a buffer between us and raw panic. Or just snappish irritation. Really, it makes everything better. And it’s free! I like free.
So here are two things to try, one if you don’t have a lot of time and the other for if you really don’t have a lot of time.
Square breathing (box breathing) To do this just remember the number 4; breath in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and then pause for four seconds. Repeat. Doing four or five breaths this way will take just over a minute and will do you a lot of good, and if you are dying for some nice science on how this affects your nervous system let me know and I will send you the low-down on it. Really, I would love to!
Better breath If you don’t have one to three minutes, or you can’t spare the concentration to count (maybe you are in a conversation with someone who is not your favorite someone, for instance), just breath in a little more deeply than usual and then extend your exhale so that it’s longer than your inhale. Repeat once or twice, and move on with your day.
Pro tip: When adding a breathing technique to your routine you really need to create a reminder or two. Why? Breathing is on autopilot. That’s a good thing (think about it…). But because it’s on autopilot, we forget it. So, pick a reminder. One good one is your phone. Every time it gives you a notification, let it mean whatever it means and let it also mean “Hey! Do that breathing thing!”
The great thing about breathing well is that it will help even if you totally don’t think it will. So welcome your skepticism, pat it on your back, and do this anyway, and see if you don’t feel the edge start to come off. Soon YOU will be the mindfulness guru. So cool.
Allison Allen is NorthLakes Chief Behavioral Health Officer