A breathing technique can bring clarity of the mind and calmness within
Have you checked that you are breathing?
Are you breathing? When was the last time you checked upon it? I am talking about the simple process of breathing because you know it’s there as long as you are living. Breathing is ignored as it’s only credential is that you are still living. Isn’t it? Not many pay attention to breathing because it has no feelings and the respiratory system and physiology would be doing it for you. As an adult with one hundred and ten to do things, who has the time for checking in the system. Office presentation, audit, household, finance, health, worrying about the unknown, counting the number of hours you are left to sleep, makes you unable to focus on the sleep. How wonderful it would be if you could magically release a form of energy to instantly calm and relax and help you focus on the task at hand?
There is good news
The good news is that you can. A couple of days ago, I chanced upon an article by endurance athlete and coach Christopher Bergland on Psychology Today. It talked about how an unsophisticated breathing technique can bring clarity of the mind and calmness within. It is as simple as it sounds – ‘make your exhalation longer than your inhalation’. Bergland is a champion endurance athlete, a three time champion of the Triple Ironman (bike 336 miles, swim 7.2 miles, run 78.6 miles) and set a Guinness World Record for running 153.76 miles in 24 hours on a treadmill. This technique of prolonged exhalation came from his dad Richard Bergland (1932-2007), a neuroscientist and tennis player, who was also the author of The Fabric of Mind. He used the same technique of breathing before complex surgeries or important tennis matches.
Why does this technique of breathing work?
There are studies that support that longer exhalations are an easy way to hack the vagus nerve (the longest nerve in your body, running from your brain stem all the way down to your colon), combat fight-or-flight stress responses, and improve HRV (heart rate variability – Heart rate variability represents the healthy fluctuation in beat-to-beat intervals of a human or animal’s heart rate). This nerve monitors the state of your organs and feeds information to the central nervous system. And it helps regulate your heartbeat.
Experiments have shown that inhalation slightly speeds up your heartbeat. While you exhale, the vagus nerve releases a neurotransmitter substance called acetylcholine or ACh which goes directly to the heart, telling it to slow down. Such a everyday process isn’t it? We all do it but if at all we practice longer exhalations! In simple terms slow heart rate means ‘calmer you’. According to Bergland, slow inhalation and even slower exhalation increases HRV. He further emphasised that HRV is linked to “lower chronic stress levels, better overall health, and improved cognition.”
How do you practice?
It comes from our very own ancient yoga practice of breath control (Pranayama). It was popularied by Dr Andrew Weil as 4-7-8 breath.
Before starting the breathing pattern, adopt a comfortable sitting position and place the tip of the tongue on the tissue right behind the top front teeth. Keep the same position right till you complete the process.
To use the 4-7-8 technique, focus on the following breathing pattern:
- empty the lungs of air – Begin by exhaling the air in your lungs.
- breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds. Hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds. Exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds
- repeat the cycle up to 4 times
- reducing anxiety
- helping a you fall asleep
- managing cravings
- controlling or reducing anger responses
We all have our little battles, for a few of us, sleep can be one such battle. Why not give it a go? Remember that it’s a practice and it takes time to see the benefits. So don’t give up if you don’t see it’s benefits immediately. I normally do it from the comfort of my bed and it works for me. Do find your place of comfort and enjoy the benefits.
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