Guest blog from Nancy Chadwick Burke. Original can be found here.
“Breathe, just breathe, c’mon now, here we go. Breeeaathe.”
How many times have I told myself this or others have had to tell me? I’m driving in the car, seatbelt fastened, both hands on the wheel, my mind’s dialogue spins fast, my breath is short and shallow. Whether on my way to the next agenda item, feeling anxious or just nerves have plagued my mind and body, I could use some deep breathing.
Maybe you are a Type-A person, competitive, ambitious, impatient, aggressive, running through the day’s busy-ness, all the while unaware of your shallow breathing. The tension alone from these tendencies sends signals for increased shallow breathing. Actually, you were probably unaware of anything internal, just relying on auto-pilot. I find the least considered “to-do” is the most important – breathing.
The typical person only uses around twenty percent of their lung capacity. Diminished lung capacity is an easy thing to achieve, something we don’t even think about. But what would happen if we used our entire capacity for breathing? What if we paid attention to our inhales, making adjustments to breathe more deep? This concerted effort results in more awareness and being more conscious of our bodies.
Healthy breathing affects all our body’s systems: immune, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, digestive – to name a few – calming and improving functionality. The mental and emotional side to healthy breathing cannot be left out, lowering stress levels, enhancing sense of self and awareness.
I find there is a little “Type-A” personality in all of us. According to Melissa Heisler, author of “From Type A to Type Me,” Type A’s hyperawareness is usually focused outside themselves; they are aware of everything external. I believe if you don’t practice healthy breathing, you won’t be aware of your internal system. Your mind and body will lack a connection. If you are disconnected how can you focus on your life path and the experiences you have?
Melissa says a foundational tool to help you become more aware is what she calls the State of Gray. This idea resembles other terms, “being in the now,” “doing nothing,” “refusing to obey the voice of knowledge,” “mindfulness. This State of Gray, a peaceful space between black and white thinking, has three components: turn off, release and surrender.
First, turn off all outside stimulation. Then release, consciously, tension, pain, tightness in your body. Allow yourself to be comfortable. Rest. Release thoughts. Lastly, surrender.
I understand this sounds easier said than done and it is a challenge. But there is one thing lacking here that you must do to get you through the steps, breathe, consciously and deeply. That will get you to what Melissa says plainly, “Just be,” in calm and quiet.
When are we not doing something – talking, thinking, imagining, listening, eating, moving? Meditation, yoga, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, or even prayer are some of the ways we can achieve State of Gray, according to Melissa. I can only suggest what worked for me, an analysis-paralysis over-thinker.
I have always been a shallow breather, an admittance I never realized until I got older and switched my exercise regimen from high aerobic output to more body focused with yoga, strength training, flexibility and core development. My unhealthy breathing was holding me back. Conscious and deep breathing enabled me to achieve the benefits from these practices taking the participation of my entire core capacity, lungs, belly and ribs.
I learned to apply this to many of my tasks throughout the day. As my memoir manuscript, “Under the Birch Tree,” continues construction, conscious breathing has gotten me through many writing sessions. In my quest to break through untimely writer’s block, my 10 minutes consists of stepping away from my computer, breathing deeply and releasing anxiety and the pressure to get it all done. This time-out enables me to refocus, think more clearly and be more productive and efficient at my task at hand.
Effective breathing takes practice, like yoga, where with each repetitive doing gets you that much better at it. So now what? What also can I do with this valuable tool called breathing? Find your State of Gray or allow it to find you. Conscious breathing and State of Gray go hand-in-hand. I couldn’t do one without the other. In a designated secluded, quiet spot, I allow myself to turn off all outside stimulation, focusing on my “to-do.” And then I become aware of my breath. I focus on the breath and relax, slowing down. I get comfortable, calming myself. And then the release, letting go tension, tightness and any pain held within my body. With my release, my breathing automatically turns deeper, filling my belly, expanding my lungs to the sides and back. After several breaths, I can’t help but to surrender and just be. I agree with Melissa. The state IS just like floating. The breathing is conscious and in turn allows me to be supported.
This mind – body connection is the most powerful thing we have. You don’t have to have Type-A tendencies to practice healthy breathing. You just need to practice healthy breathing, consciously.
Now I don’t need to have someone look at me and tell me to breathe, knowing the air surge will quell nerves, soften my anxiety or help me to focus. Anyone can start conscious breathing, even while driving in the car.