It's Going to Happen Anyway ... Even if You Don't Think About It!
In general terms a relaxed person takes a little over 17,000 per day, an average person takes approximately 20,000 per day, a stressed individual may take 30,000 per day - breaths, that is, one of the few miraculous things our bodies do consciously or unconsciously. It can pay huge dividends to get into the habit of passively noticing your breath - the sound, depth, and frequency. Be careful not to obsess or pay total attention to your breathing or that attention itself may make you ill at ease. Monitor your breath as if you were simply watching small children play in the park on a beautiful, warm, sunny, summer day - relaxed, detached, and not bothered. Better yet imagine yourself as the children playing! Do not put too much thought or effort into the process, just causally watch and listen. Eventually this "watching" will become second nature.
When you stop to think about it breathing is the most precious commodity of our existence. Generally speaking, we can live for three to four weeks without food, several weeks without sleep, three days without water, three hours without warmth but only mere minutes without oxygen. For the average person, brain damage shortly follows after three minutes without taking a breath. Of course there are exceptions like the highly skilled free divers who dive deep into the ocean without additional sources of oxygen. For examples of this extraordinary breath control please see sites such as AIDA - the Worldwide Federation for breath-hold diving and martinstepanek.com.
I liken developing this so-called "watchdog" mentality to a personal computer running a detached utility such as a virus protection program. The process watches and scans any new incoming data and quarantines any suspect data before the virus has a chance to exact its damage. Fortunately, at least at this point, we are much more intuitive than a computer and we don't need to go out and retrieve the latest/greatest updated protection on a regular basis in order to "protect the system". We have everything right at our own disposal. If we can just learn to monitor our thoughts before they become damaging emotions and affect our breathing pattern, we can stop and breathe ourselves calm.
Try a test the next time you are confronted with a tense or frustrating scenario. Unfortunately, for most of us these opportunities present themselves way too often. For instance, when some other driver pulls out in front of you, cuts you off, rides your bumper, etc. Mentally take a step back and watch your breathing, then slow the rate and increase the depth and I think you will find yourself becoming more tolerant of the other drivers rudeness, rather than just becoming upset. If you can learn to anticipate and sense your impending hostile, aggressive reaction to others whose actions threaten or upset you. You will go a long way in achieving a peaceful state, where in the past you instinctively lashed out without any forethought or even realizing how upset you really are.
When I talk to people about working on their breathing patterns I often hear, "How long will it take, I don't really have the time". They are missing the point, you are already breathing whether you think about or not. It is just about an awareness or attention to the process.
Our breathing is for the most part indicative of our state, whether we be harried, completely relaxed or somewhere in between. When you are rushed, anxious, and generally just on edge, I think your breathing will be the same - rapid, shallow, and somewhat frantic. As opposed to when you are in a relaxed state or self-absorbed with a task or activity you enjoy, your breathing will most likely be rhythmic, deep, and slow.
Breathing techniques and breath control have been around for centuries, playing a major in role in the martial arts, yoga, and meditation practices. Perhaps after all this time the wisdom has finally come of age. I have noticed that more and more "mainstream" publications have featured articles on the many benefits of passive, slow, controlled breathing. I have even seen some medical facilities offering programs for breath work.
Breath work is something that you can start immediately, even as you read the rest of this article. And the cost is non-existent - it's FREE! The benefits are numerous and fairly easy to notice. Quite possibly the greatest benefit is feeling better and enjoying a relaxed, slowed, more peaceful state, with attention focused on the moment at hand.
Not to say that this is an effortless, quick, or an easy process. I assume that one could work on perfecting one's breath until their dying day and still have room for improvement. I have been "working on" breath control or the attempted lack thereof letting it become work for almost two years, and I am seeing real results, which are many times well worth the effort. I am finally able to notice for the most part when my breathing is affected by my emotions. This is not to say that you may have a different timetable, perhaps faster or slower, that is not the point. The point I am trying to make is that I believe everyone can stand to benefit from this practice in some fashion.
I found that when I needed to pay attention to my breath the most, when I was anxious, the thought slipped my mind. I needed to make time consistently to practice. In the beginning I think you have to remind yourself to watch your breath on a regular, almost daily schedule. I started watching my breath when I exercised, something I do consistently. I used the example of exercise, because it is something I do often and enjoy. I am not suggesting that you have to exercise in order to watch your breath, although most of us could use a little more exercise. I feel you need to find something that you do regularly and enjoy. When paying attention to my breath I found that after a time my long, slow distance runs became almost effortless. I also found the sometimes it is necessary to speed the body in order to slow the mind. No, I don't mean pumping 160 bpm (beats per minute) behind your desk! I mean some type of movement that gets your heart pounding, done in a relaxed manner for a long period of time. This seems to quiet my mind.
If you have the luxury of abundant, clean, fresh air where you live, by all means appreciate that fact and go outside and take some in. I believe that ingesting clean fresh air every day will make us all feel better and aid in ridding the body of toxins the way nature intended. Breathing by its very essence is a purification process that uses intake of fresh air and exhausting of bodily wastes, such as carbon dioxide. The more efficiently we breathe (i.e., rhythmically, deeper, slower) the more efficient the waste removal process is going to be. Also the more we practice our controlled, conscious breathing patterns will become second nature and our unconscious breathing will become the same as our watched breathing.
Did you ever watch a baby's breathing? Their lower stomach distends as they breathe deeply into the bottoms of their lungs and slowly release their breath. This is not something they are taught, this is instinctual. Most of us gradually unlearn instinctual proper breathing patterns as we are inevitably faced with the sometimes distracting, rushed, reality of the real world.
There are many different sources, options, and opinions on proper breathing techniques. A simple way to start your journey would be to slowly breathe in through your nose and gently exhale through your mouth. You should notice as you do this that you become more and more relaxed.
I have found a tape program by Dr. Andrew Weil to be of great help to me. His program Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing is an excellent place to begin taking control of taking advantage of "your most precious commodity".
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