Updated: Oct 30, 2020
Take a moment to pause, right now before you read on, and take a few deep breaths:
Breathe in through your nose, long and slow. Breathe in to the belly and feel it rise. Now exhale slowly and completely. Do this a couple more times.
How did that feel? Does it feel like you hit the reset button? Do you notice a renewed sense of clarity, calm, or release?
Congratulations on resetting your system, thanks to the conscious breath!
The PSA here is: You can reset and change the state of your body with breathing.
Welcome to another installment of my blog series where I guide you through my unique meditation sequence that I feature in all of my classes — the 5 R’s to Rewire:
· Recognize – notice the imbalance, trigger, or busy thoughts.
· Reset – use the breath to change and balance your state.
· Refocus – redirect to a mantra or the breath to anchor your thoughts and train the mind muscles to focus.
· Restore – enjoy a meditative state for deep rest in the mind and body.
· Rewire – use positive visualization to elevate and envision feeling great!
Breathing is Your Superpower
Within our magnificent bodies, we have the rhythm of the breath. Most of the time we don’t even notice the breath at all. That’s because it’s an automatic function. There is a part of the brain that tells the body what to do, in this case breathe, without us actively telling the brain to do it. (Reminds me of the hilarious FRIENDS episode where Phoebe says: “they don't know that we know they know we know”. ☺️)
If we are moving fast, the breath speeds up. When we are sleeping, it slows. When we are stressed, the breath quickens because it’s perceiving a disturbance or threat, so it’s getting you ready to fight/flee/freeze.
We all experience stress at one level or another. When that level gets too high, stress can become chronic and constant as the brain maladaptive to always being stressed. It can haphazardly signal the body to breathe fast and shallow ALL the time.
We aren’t designed for that type of constant stress state, aka sympathetic dominance. We are designed to toggle back and forth, returning and remaining in parasympathetic state, aka calm state.
With our busy brain full of schedules, deadlines, to-do’s, responsibilities, concerns, etc. — this takes practice. The good news is, we can essentially teach and rewire the brain out of the survival mode and into the thriving mode by simply breathing in a mindful way. There are many mindful tools we can use to aid our shift - the easiest one at our immediate disposal is the breath.
A recent study showed that "the physical and cognitive benefits associated with yoga and mindfulness may be due to mechanisms including ‘deep breathing’ and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system." This activation prompts the body to reset efficiently, allowing the system to return to homeostasis and feel much more balanced. The benefits of that are shown to be better mood, sleep, focus, energy and more.
An international study reaffirmed this showing that slow abdominal breathing reduced the "fight-or-flight" response of the sympathetic nervous system and could enhance vagal activity. These findings were published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Deep breathing enhances vagal tone because it improves heart rate variability, which is the measurement of variations within beat-to-beat intervals. The bigger the difference between your inhalation heart-rate and your exhalation heart-rate, the higher your vagal tone and the more likely your body can relax faster after stress.
We have the superpower of conscious breathing. The breath has the superpower to change our state.
The first step in my sequence to interrupt the stress cycle is to RECOGNIZE, which I have gone into detail here.
Then it’s up to us to RESET. It’s not about changing the breath or deeming there are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ breaths. It’s about recognizing when we are off-balance and using the breath to reset.
We take approximately 960 breaths an hour, which is 23,040 a day, which adds up to about 8,409,600 a year. That means we have over 20,000 opportunities every day to reset our state if needed.
That is why the breath is so prominently used in meditation practices. It’s is one of the most, if not THE most mindful tool.
I include breathing tools in all of my classes, however, I also like to take it a step further. Mostly because for some, even breathing can feel stressful or challenging. That’s an indication for you to ‘recognize‘ that there is sympathetic surplus, or you’ve been stuck in fight/flight/freeze.
Using the conscious breath alone to reset is enough and it works — but why not take it a step further and use our visual mind along with the breath to reset AND rewire?
This is why I encourage and implement breathing + visualization, where you focus on a visualization while we take some deep breaths.
Close your eyes and think of one thing that feels good. It can be anything that gives you joy or feels calming. (Sitting on the beach, playing with your dog, holding you child, hugging your grandma, playing a game, winning a prize, etc.)
Visualize it happening; notice all the colors, sights and sounds.
Feel it happening: holding all your attention on this moment and how it makes you feel.
Begin to take deep breaths through the nose and into the belly filling up the diaphragm (not the chest), and exhaling slowly and completely.
Do this five times while maintaining focus on what feels good.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
You can pause and practice this unique meditative breathing + visualization sequence at any time in the day, Whether you’re at work, at home, about to go to sleep, or starting your day.
You can also come to my free classes to practice breathing and bank on the benefits. I am guiding a free meditation on Instagram LIVE every Wednesday at 3:30pm PT/ 6:30pm ET
Follow me at @meditatewells and be sure to turn on your notification for when I go live!