There are so many reasons to include a breathing practice. Obviously we need breath to survive, but we take it for granted. We know that breath control is important for women delivering babies, and for athletes, musicians and other performers. It’s core yoga and meditation practices, SCIENCE says it’s good for us, and best of all its costs absolutely nothing and everyone can do it.
Physiologically, the reason to control the breath is that we can use our breathing to turn on our parasympathetic nervous system. When we perceive a threat, our bodies the sympathetic nervous system is dominant and it redirects your resources to respond to the threat. Simply by breathing slowly and deeply in and out through the nose we can turn on the opposite system, the system that is in charge of resting and digesting. It’s pretty cool: here’s a detailed explanation if you are interested.
Simply by making a habit of some deep breath practice, we can significantly control our own response to stress.
Let me repeat that: you can control your own stress.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
My own experience is that its incredibly powerful. I have breathed my way through a 45 minute full body MRI, 6 months of chemo. I’ve taught my colleagues called the practice I was taught on a wellness program:
The 4 breath technique
The idea it to find 5 times in the day when you stop and takes 4 slow, deep breaths, using your thumb to count each breath on a finger. Focusing on counting with the thumb and fingers as you listen to your breath helps anchor you in what the body is doing, which helps stop your mind from bouncing around.
You can set alarms to remind yourself (good when starting) or do it when it’s convenient, what is key is to make it something you do every day, multiple times.
Training the puppy
Some people talk about the monkey mind but I like the analogy to training a puppy, it’s so much kinder somehow. Your mind’s job is to jump up at every little thing and be excited and pee on the floor…ok maybe that’s taking the analogy too far…your mind is meant to make up stories about things but it is an excitable little puppy and it barks at shadows. You can’t respond to every bark, so you need to train it to only bark when its important. You do that by taking charge of it: by breathing slowly and deeply through the nose, and letting go of all thoughts.
My favourite thing about this is even when you are genuinely stressed, you can trick yourself into being calm. And once you get your cognitive brain back in charge, you can start telling helpful stories to yourself.
And it all starts with daily deep breathing practice.