JUST BREATHE FFS…(For your Future Self)
Loss of Perspective
One of our greatest flaws as humans is our natural ability to completely exaggerate our own importance. What goes on in our lives, looms very large in our view of the world. And so, when we get stressed we can suffer anxiety, during bouts of stress-induced insobriety or chronic fatigue we can get upset, angry, curse, become resentful and literally throw things across the room.
If we are to reclaim our calm and composure, we must regularly be reduced in our own eyes.
We must give up on the very normal disturbing illusion that it really matters what we do and who we are.
Ref: School of Life
CHRONIC STRESS AFFECTS 350 million people worldwide. It derives from a variety of sources (e.g., work, school, finances, living conditions, economy, fake news, conspiracy theories, pandemics…) and may lead to depression, substance abuse, cardiovascular disease, and a host of other poor health outcomes. Stress is an insidious beast, it kiboshes our ability to better-manage ourselves, stress demoralises our ability to exert self-discipline, whilst coercing our less than desirable habits and behaviours to be flagrantly exercised.
We can toy with these behaviours, falsely endorsing them by saying it’s fun, or I need to do this or that because it’s been a stressful day etc…but all we’re really doing is over-feeding our stress, whist starving our physiology and poisoning our psychology.
Not a psychological opinion that I’m aware of, but I think, we can often ‘rely on’, ‘blame’ and ‘use & abuse’ (our)stress as a very dependable resource, an excuse if you like, to self-enable our addictions, distractions and impulses, to conveniently ‘avoid’ eating better, moving more etc…being kind to ourselves
Now, more than ever, there is a strong need for evidence-based stress interventions that are accessible and effective across a broad population.
Breath of Life…another strategy to improve your thinking…
The greatest life-resource we have available to us that is not only free, but is also our best tool to reduce our stress, penetrate our calm, and access our best thinking…is conscious breath work.
Breath is life – and the quality of your breathing is an incredibly powerful determinant of your physical and emotional state of being.
Breathing is handled by a subconscious part of the brain called the medulla, which also controls our heart rate and blood pressure – and though handled by the subconscious – we can do a great deal, consciously, to ensure our physical and emotional state is optimised by the way we choose to breathe.
All good things are
wild and free
– Henry David Thoreau
Are You A Mouth Breather or A Nose Breather?
Like everything we do there’s a right way and wrong way – and breathing and breath is no different.
My aim here is to not only highlight the differences between mouth breathing and nose breathing, but to illustrate why a concerted, mindful effort to practice breathing properly every day – will be your segue to not only better physical health, but vastly improved mental health.
Deep breathing / deep thinking
Shallow breathing / shallow thinking
Mouth breathing Vs. Nose Breathing
– Biases your body towards a *sympathetic drive (“fight, or flight state”)
– Dries out the airway and constricts the blood vessels in the lungs.
– Primary chest breathing
– Decreased oxygen exchange from lungs to the blood
– Increased breathing rate
– Poor sleep quality
[*helpful when you need run away from something threatening, downright unhelpful/unhealthy to regularly or constantly ‘be in this state’]
On the contrary, nasal breathing has the following benefits and characteristics
– *Parasympathetic nervous system drive (“rest and digest” “calm…ohm”)
– Primary diaphragmatic breathing
– Dilation of blood vessels in the lungs
– Increased oxygen exchange from the lungs to the blood
– Decreased breathing rate
– Humidifies air
– Sterilises air
– Improved sleep quality
– Slows down the ageing process
[*ideal all day everyday life, probably unhelpful if being chased by a tiger]
3 Reasons Why Nose Breathing is Superior
– Nose breathing can reduce your risk of colds.
Your nose is your first line of defence against viruses and bacteria – but only when you breath through it. The microscopic hairs located in your nose, called cilia work with mucous to trap pathogens.
This obviously results in snot and boogers, but also a healthier you
– Nose breathing improves stamina
If ultramarathon legend Scott Jurek says breathing through your nose will improve performance, then that’s a pretty good endorsement for me. One study shows nose breathing reduce breathing rates by up to 50 percent, and decreases perceived exertion by 60 percent
– Nose breathing boosts cardiovascular & Sexual Health
Scientist discovered in 1995 that nose breathing produced nitric oxide – an extremely important compound for cardiovascular, immune and sexual health. Nitric oxide (NO) is released from the nasal airways in humans. During inspiration through the nose, this NO will follow the airstream to the lower airways and the lungs. After NO reaches the lungs, it gets circulated through the bloodstream where it “plays an important role in vasoregulation (blood vessels opening and closing), homeostasis, neurotransmission, immune defence, and respiration.
(credit: Backyard Brains: https://backyardbrains.com/experiments/ Sympathetic_Nervous_System)
THE NOSE IS FOR BREATHING, THE MOUTH IS FOR EATING
CALM IS AN INTERNAL QUALITY that is the result of analysis: it comes when we sift through our worries and correctly understand them. We therefore need ample time to read, to write, and, most of all, to benefit from the regular support of a good listener: a sympathetic, kind, innately clever person…you.
Ultimately, my motivation for todays topic, is that if we practice daily to focus our attention and consciously monitor our breath more often, if we remind ourselves to tap into our innate life-cadence, to take better & regular control of our life-metronome that lies within us, we’ll soon have access and be exposed to:
– An extraordinary improved sense of wellbeing
– Improved ability to access our calm, and bring it ‘into-play’ when we are under-stress
– A desire to explore & improve the scope & breadth of our emotions, which will lead to…better thinking, better choices & better problems
Meditate To Self-Mediate...but don’t over thunk-it
Many of us can over-complicate ‘meditation’, we can tend to self-insist that we have to sit still for 10,20, or 30 minutes with an ’empty-head’...unless you’ve reached Nirvana or have been lobotomised, achieving an ’empty-head state’ ain’t (more than likely) going happen…and personally, I don’t really think that’s the point.
We want to be calm…and we want it now!
Whatever you want to call it – meditating, quietude, reflection, breath work etc is an opportunity to spend time with ourselves and practice keeping the mind and our thoughts in the here and now.
This is no easy task, so the best way to help you continually bring your thoughts into the present moment is to give your brain a job.
And this is where practicing nose breathing techniques and counting ones breath will prove to be very effective
Our goal is to encourage a parasympathetic nervous response…
Now I meditate every morning fo 20-40 minutes, and though I love it, I can honestly say I get much more pleasure and benefit whilst I actively meditate – simply put, mindfully monitoring my breath and breathing when I’m walking, cycling or jogging.
– I need sun and fresh air. It’s an opportunity for me get outside, get some vitamin D
– I’m a fidget-arse. Time to move. Evolutionary speaking we are designed to move, we are not designed to sit and be stationary.
– I get-off on nature. An opportunity to embrace ‘soft fascination‘, expose myself to nature (not like that, well maybe). It provides me moments in my day to absorb my surroundings, to feel the wind, the sun, rain.
– It gives me an opportunity to savour the moments that we can tend to take for granted during the busier parts of our day
Live in each season as it passes;
breathe the air, drink the drink,
taste the fruit, and resign yourself
to the influence of the earth.
– Henry David Thoreau
– If you’re not disciplined to ignore your smartphone, then leave it at home
– Make time for solitary walks – this YOU time.
– Mantras – another awesome form of meditation (to give your mind a job) is to repeat over and over again a personal mantra. I’m all for methods to reprogram ones internal narrative, and mantras provide a perfect tool to do this.
– Be mindful of cadence of your step – visualise your foot strike as it hits the ground.
– Remain focused as long as you can to feeling the natural elements on your skin. When I’m cycling I focus on the sound of the winding passing over my ears.
– And importantly, monitor your breath, practice nose-breathing – try some breathing techniques such as Box Breathing – see resources below
Meditating, quietude, reflection, breath work etc can be done anywhere, anytime, and for however long or short you want to do it.
– Commuting, driving in the car, stopping at traffic lights, catching the train or bus
– Walking to or from a meeting
– When you’re surfing, playing golf, gardening, walking the dog
– Doing your domestic chores – washing the dishes, mowing the lawn, hanging the washing out
– Waiting in a queue at the supermarket or bank
These are all opportunities to ‘steal some time’ and reclaim some peace of mind.
So rather than picking up your phone – practice your breathing
If our brain is focused on our breathing, or a mantra, or the senses being exposed to nature – then it (the brain) cannot be occupied anywhere else – it can’t be in two places at once.
It will, all the time, drag you back to the past, or push you into the non-existent future – but the more we can bring our thoughts into the present, through these simple but effective methods, the less stress and anxiety we will feel.
The more you practice, the easier it gets to enter and propagate self-calm for that very moment in time, and for times during the day when we our emotions can get the better of us.
This is meditation…this is mindfulness 101…
Reclaim Our Perspective
The awe-inspiring combination nature and breath.
The calming effect it has when we expose ourselves to even the hint of the unimaginable extensions of the beauty of nature here on this small planet, let alone across the solar system, the galaxy and the cosmos – for against such a backdrop, we soon realise that none of our troubles, disappointments or hopes really have any relevance.
[watch the 3min Carl Sagan video – link below]
If we are capable, at least for a short time each day, to reduce ourselves in our own eyes and attempt to quash the self-imposed illusion that what we do and who we are really matters – then maybe the burden of living will be lifted somewhat.
It is here when we give ourself these moments in time, we can access that good listening, that sympathetic, that kind, and innately clever person that resides within you.
It’s the beauty within us that
makes it possible for us
to recognise the beauty around us.
The question is not what
you look at but what you see.
– Henry David Thoreau
Here’s some breathing resources…
Diaphragmatic breathing – breathing deeply and expanding the lungs into the diaphragm
Box breathing is a very simple, highly effective breathing technique.
I usually start, first 5-10min of my static meditations doing Box Breathing. I also use this method when my head first hits the pillow when I go to bed…I’m fast asleep within minutes
Breathing / Meditating Technique – Box Breathing
Here’s a guided Box Breathing video clip if you’re keen
Box Breathing App
If you feel like exploring more then also check out:
The Oxygen Advantage: Scientific Proven Breathing Techniques To Revolutionise Your Health – Patrick McKeown
Till Next Time…