Yes, that’s right – are YOU breathing? When I ask my clients this question there is often a pause – politely followed by, “I think so!” The question is not asked in jest, but rather in sincerity – regarding all the challenges in our daily lives.
When we are born, with our newly developed lungs are still growing so we breathe very deeply – into our bellies. We have a rapid pulse as our stomachs rise and fall quickly gathering all the oxygen our growing bodies need. If you watch an infant breathe, they are using all of their lungs with every breath to grow and expand.
As we grow into children this continues – but not with the same rapid pulse. Ever watch a child run on a soccer field, or across the yard? They are winded, but their breath continues to drop all the way into their stomachs. They expand their lungs fully and maximize their oxygen intake.
As we become adults we tend to lose this breathing technique. We begin to slump in our ergonomic work chairs while our shoulders round to reach our hands onto keyboards and occasionally to a mouse. As we slump forward we close off our chest, our lungs, and our breathing becomes shallower over time. Like any learned behavior, this new method of breathing takes hold (after all, we practice it all day long every day!) and we no longer even consider the deep breath of our youth.
If you aren’t in the office environment, the change in your breathing may be less obvious, you may not realize the subtlety of your postural decline, or the way in which your shoulders are held. Likely the positioning of your body is the same as our office friends, only less obvious since you don’t have that keyboard all day long to bring awareness to your stature.
Stress imposes on our lives. We live in a non-stop world with bodies that require stopping, a.k.a. rest. As we feel more stress in our lives, our bodies react. Each of us have different coping mechanisms for stress as it overwhelms us – we over-indulge on food and alcohol, we turn to recreational drugs or cigarettes, we lose ourselves in television shows, and some of us exercise. If we aren’t coping or we are overwhelmed with stress we act out – some behaviors (pacing, yelling, short-fuses); emotions (crying, anger, silence); or physical symptoms (neck pain, tight low back or shoulders, hair loss, nail biting) emerge. These are obvious cues to turn our attention to the stress levels we are carrying.
Stress stacks on our shoulders and weighs us down. Whenever I speak to a group on stress management, I am surprised to see shoulders rising and posture changing during the limited time I am with them. You see, stress management isn’t difficult, and it isn’t “another thing” on your overloaded plate of life. It’s simply breathing.
When we turn back time and begin taking fuller breaths like we did in our younger days, we release that stale air in our lungs, and send the stress along with it. Why not take that deep breath right now for no reason at all? Why not push back from your desk and focus only on your breath? The number one method to stress reduction is focused breathing, so if you happen to have any stress (who doesn’t), now is a great time to release it.
Push back, put your hands on your legs, and both feet on the floor. Correct your posture so that your shoulders are back and down, and your head is resting comfortably on your shoulders. With your next breath, begin a slow inhale through your nose, continuing to inhale until your lungs have expanded (not your belly, but your lungs) and then begin a slow exhale of the same duration. Repeat this process for at least three breaths. On your third exhalation, blow the air out through your mouth, and emphasize emptying your lungs. You have stored stale air in there for so long, this should feel good, and the air may even feel warm to you as you exhale.
Congratulations! You now know the best kept secret in the world – and the #1 stress-reliever anyone could ever talk about. Please, practice often, share this gift with others, and let me how it works best for you.
(Originally posted August 2015)