Remember to breathe: integrating rhythms of renewal
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 2, 9 March 2018, p22
Have you ever caught yourself during a frantic day and noticed that your shoulders have crept up around your ears and your breathing has become, at best, a shallow pant?
When the pressure is on, our tendency is to take all the attention outside of ourselves to meet the external demands, and in the process, disconnect from what is happening inside our bodies. This leaves our bodies vulnerable to absorbing the hectic pace of life around us, which can penetrate deep into our physiology, undermining the most basic rhythm of life itself – our breathing.
One way to help restore a healthy rhythm in your body is to develop the habit of regularly stopping and connecting with your body, then resetting your energy and attention if necessary.
Here are two kinds of “stops” that can help put some rhythm back into your day.
1. The 1 to 10-minute pause
1-minute check-in: Take 30 to 60 seconds to consciously shift your awareness from what you are doing, to how you are feeling. Notice any physical sensations or emotions and name them. This cultivates self-awareness and is especially helpful for regulating negative emotions.
Breath awareness: Give yourself a breath test a few times a day. Place one hand on the upper chest and one hand on your belly. As you breathe in, notice which hand moves more. If there is a lot of movement in your upper chest, gently invite more breath into the lower lobes of the lungs, which will result in your belly rising and falling as you breathe, more so than your chest. Then gradually lengthen your outbreath by a few counts. This helps turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces relaxation.
Body scan: Taking five minutes to pay attention to the sensations in each part of your body cultivates present-moment awareness, calming the body-mind.
Meeting energisers: Break up meetings, especially afternoon ones, with some quick energisers every half hour, or incorporate a couple of minutes of silence intermittently, to help people reconnect with themselves and their bodies.
2. Stillness in motion: anywhere, anytime
On the days when you truly can’t stop what you are doing, you can still learn to cultivate stillness on the inside.
Breathing: In any moment, you can pause and pay attention to your breathing. Attend, not only to the mechanics of breathing as described above, but also bring a gentle quality to it which will help you feel more connected to you, rather than be at the mercy of the world around you.
Movement: The next time you need to go from point A (e.g. lunchroom) to point B (e.g. classroom), experiment with two different ways of moving. Try walking while feeling a connection with your inner heart. Notice what effect this has on you. Then walk impulsed by your “to-do list”. Which one does your body prefer? We can either centre and soothe ourselves through our movements, or stress ourselves out.
Present moment awareness: You can bring this to anything you are already doing. You could eat lunch, for example, with your mind fully focused on eating. Next time you find yourself about to inhale your lunch, pause for a moment and notice the colours of the food, the smell, then the taste and texture as you eat.
When “too busy” thinking tells you that you simply have no time to stop during the day, remember that every breath you take, every move you make, is an opportunity to restore wellbeing.
Health and productivity writer, presenter and coach