When life is weighing you down one of the best ways to maintain peace of mind and a sense of well-being is to breathe. Now, that may sound a little ridiculous. After all, we breathe unconsciously and don’t even think about it, right? But, therein lies the catch. We don’t think about our breathing much and over time, with the pressures of daily life, most of us have defaulted to shallow chest breathing which dramatically reduces the amount of oxygen we take in. Shallow breathing actually causes a lot of unnecessary misery for us.
In today’s frenetic, high-stress world, most of us sit, stand, and move in ways that undermine our breathing and our physical and emotional health. If we were to sense and observe ourselves in action for a moment, we would notice an enormous amount of unnecessary tension throughout our bodies—this tension is usually stored in our shoulders, back, jaw, face, throat, belly, hands, or chest. As we become more aware of our body tension, we would also notice that it usually escalates when we are in a hurry and feeling stressed, which for many of us is almost all the time. This tension throughout our body often impedes the natural, harmonious movement of the diaphragm and its coordination with the secondary breathing muscles causing a shallow breathing pattern.
In highly charged situations notice that we tend to take rapid shallow breaths, and we feel the heart pound and muscles tighten as adrenaline kicks in. This is the sympathetic nervous system in our body working in high gear, and it is stimulated in times of stress—we know it as the “fight or flight” response. When this automatic response is triggered it causes the release of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream putting all systems on high alert. Very helpful if you are about to be attacked by a bear in the woods, but in everyday life this high-stress state can become detrimental to our health and happiness over time.
Abdominal Breathing Exercise
To begin the exercise, sit down and place one hand on your belly. With your eyes closed breathe comfortably for a few breaths and feel your belly rise and fall with each breath. On your next exhalation, breathe out slowly through your nose, counting to 6 in your mind. At the bottom of your exhale, pause briefly for 2 counts, and then inhale slowly to a count of 6. Expand your belly as you breathe in. At the end of your inhalation pause briefly for 2 counts, and then exhale slowly as you count to 6 in your mind. Slow, rhythmic breaths – inhale…pause…exhale…pause. Breathe this way 8-10 times.
This abdominal deep breathing exercise is a great way to help your mind and body relax. It is also a helpful cure for people who get migraines or stress headaches because a major cause of headaches is lack of oxygen due to shallow breathing. Over time with practice, this exercise will train your body to naturally breathe through your abdomen even in stressful situations.
Take a time out a few times a day and practice abdominal breathing. You will discover this to be one of the single most helpful tools to improve the quality of your life.
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
John's passion is in helping people get unstuck so they can experience their true potential. Before starting his own practice he spent 16 years coaching, consulting, and presenting to Fortune 500 companies, teams, and individuals on how to breakthrough their barriers and magnify their talents.