Many of us breathe everyday without thinking about how influential the breath is. It is not until we lose our breath from getting punched in the gut or at the sight of a pair of patent leather, peep toe Christian Louboutins that we even notice it. It can signal anxiety when shallow and rapid, it helps us to take in the delicious aroma of a custom cake made by BCakeNY and it keeps us alive. However, for most of us it goes unnoticed.
Your breath is a steady constant that you have with you from the beginning to the end of life. Whether you are aware of it or not, you continue to breathe as long as you are alive. Our heart works with our inhale to retrieve the oxygen we need to function and with our exhale to get rid of the waste known as carbon dioxide. With every breath we take there is both renewal and a washing away of what we don’t need.
Taking time to observe your breathing can be a wonderful way of orienting yourself to the here and now. So often, we spend our time worrying about the past or trying to predict the future. This is a central focus in my work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Learning to use your breath is a great way for survivors and all others to manage uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. We all live a great deal of our life on “auto-pilot”. When we are not living in the present moment we can make choices that are based on distorted thinking and we have less opportunities available to us because we lack awareness. Your breath is an ever present life force that can help you to cultivate the awareness you need to be an active participant in your life.
In addition to helping you to be mindful of the present moment, the breath can also be used to help you manage stress, anxiety and panic. When you focus on your breathing without trying to change it you can calm the mind and restore balance and stability. This restoration allows you to see things clearer and can stop the maladaptive thinking that leads to stress, anxiety and panic. If you are experiencing panic attacks or your anxiety is causing you severe distress, psychotherapy can help. Contact me at 917.476.9381 for an evaluation.
We can see that the breath is very powerful and how becoming more aware of it can benefit us. But how do we incorporate mindful breathing into our daily lives? It is easier than you think! Here are a few ideas:
Rapid to Slow Breathing
Stand up and vigorously jog in place or do jumping jacks for one minute. Take a seat and observe your breathing go from a fast pace until it steadily declines to a normal pace. This exercise will allow you to witness how the body can regulate itself and you will get a chance to notice the difference between rapid breathing and a normal breath. It will also serve as an opportunity to focus on the here and now.
Set time aside during the day to witness your breathing. Since it is with you at all times, and it does not require you to do anything differently than what you are currently doing, you can do it anywhere. Take a 3 minute break once or twice during your work day, or at home, or at any other time to focus only on your breathing. When the three minutes is up, you can return to your previous task with a sense of renewal and presence.
Find a comfortable seated position, set a timer for 5, 15 or 30 minutes, focus on your breathing and pay attention to what happens as you do so. Some people like to meditate to music, silence or a voice that directs how to meditate (guided meditation). Any of these options are fine. Witness your breathing through your nostrils, chest or abdomen and become aware of the sensations that accompany the breath. This can serve as an anchor that brings you into the present moment and gives your mind a much needed rest.
The mind-body connection is in the forefront while doing yoga. Yoga by itself increases flexibility, gets you more in touch with your body and makes you stronger. Mindful yoga does all of the above while you practice accepting yourself, cultivating awareness and learning to work within your limits. It can be done in a class setting or at home. You can do it for 5 minutes or 2 hours. Just do it!
These are just a few ideas about how you can incorporate mindful breathing into your daily routine. There are many other ways to do so. Here is a hint for the beginners: Just as the nose smells and the eyes see, your mind thinks. It is normal for thoughts to enter your mind and distract you from your breathing. Simply recognize the thought and refocus yourself on the task at hand. This action alone means you have succeeded at breathing mindfully. It also prepares you to be able to do the same as you go about the activities of your day and encounter a distorted thought. Remember, as my husband says, all you HAVE to do is…breathe.
For more information you can call Chamin Ajjan, MS, LCSW at 917.476.9381 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Chamin Ajjan Psychotherapy, LCSW PLLC or to schedule a free consultation, please visit the website at www.chaminajjan.com.