Have you heard the one about the guy who tries to wake up his son for school?
"Billy," says the dad, "wake up!"
Billy groans "I don't want to get up."
Dad shouts, "Get up, you have to go to school."
Billy moans "I don't want to go to school."
"Why not?" asks dad.
"Three reasons," says Billy.
"First, because it's so dull; second, the kids tease me; and third, I hate school."
Billy’s father answers: "Well, I am going to give you three reasons why you must go to school.
First, because it is your duty; second, because you are forty-five years old, and third, because you are the headmaster."
We all know the feeling. I don’t wanna but I gotta. In the short-term, we can use mindful breathing to ease our unease. (In the longterm, let’s try to change the hated situation!)
WHY DOES MINDFUL BREATHING WORK?
Chances are, Billy’s breathing was sharp and shallow in his agitated state. We don’t tend to breathe long and low (from the belly), the optimum way to breathe, when we’re frantic, depressed or upset.
The nervous system interprets short and shallow breathing as heralding danger is near.
The terrible danger of having to go to school … of having to be responsible, when every fibre in Billy’s body is saying no, no, no. Not today.
Although not life threatening, Billy’s anxiety is triggering the same response in the nervous system that was originally built for encountering sabre tooth tigers or blasting into battle against hostile invaders.
It’s making him more agitated and keeping him that way. The dreaded situation, facing another school day, assumes proportions beyond the rational.
WHAT IS MINDFUL BREATHING?
Mindful breathing is simply checking in with our body and breath, especially when under unwanted stress. How do we know when we’re under undue stress? We don’t feel good! We feel uneasy, pressured, uncomfortable, unsafe.
Mindful breathing entails noticing the inbreath, the outbreath … staying with the noticing. The noticing itself can slow and harmonise the breath. Or we can use a word with the breath, any word will do … such as ‘in’ on the inbreath, ‘out’ on the outbreath.
We check in with the body. If the breath is shallow, up high in the chest, we focus instead on breathing from the ribs, belly or lower back.
Do it over and over again till the breath settles. Pick up the practice again if you feel the breath creeping back to an agitated state.
THE 'VICTORY' BREATH: UJJAYI
To make the experience more powerful, use a yogic breathing technique (‘pranayama’) known as ujjayi breath. In ujjayi, we make a soft snoring sound in the throat achieved by contracting the glottis. Rachel Scott will show you how in this excellent short tutorial. (2mins 48 secs)
WHAT DOES MINDFUL BREATHING DO?
Mindful breathing communicates directly with the nervous system and calms it. We feel a lot better pretty quickly.
Generally, our nervous system is in one of the two states:
Ideally, we aim to make Cruise our default mode, with brief excursions into Accelerator for emergency situations, spikes of action, enthusiasm, risk taking and defence.
SWITCH STRESS ON, SWITCH STRESS OFF
Of course, life is not necessarily cruisy all the time. It’s easy to get stuck in Red zone, on a medium to low level of continual arousal. Unfortunately, Accelerator mode is accompanied by agitation. It is energy for defence. This red zone erodes wellbeing.
Cruise is energy for repair. Green zone rebuilds our body and nervous system.
Slow, regular, controlled mindful breathing tells the nervous system you are safe and well. Cruise mode switches on. Accelerator switches off.
When we are stuck in Red Zone we are stuck in rumination, anger, regret … anxious thoughts dominate. We get easily stuck on the treadmill of speed and rush, of feeling driven and overwhelmed. That’s where Billy is, stuck in his bed, stuck in his head.
ACADEMIC RESEARCH: THE NEXT LEVEL
We can take mindful breathing to a whole new level of chill by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out the breath.
Professor Luciano Bernardi, of the Italian University of Pavia, studied the effect of slowingthe breath to only 6 breaths per minute, in 2001.
That’s ten seconds per breath.
He timed the breathing with the 6-syllable Tibetan mantra Om Many Padme Hum and again with the chanting of Ave Maria, which also demands six breaths per minute.
His conclusion was, "Rhythm formulas that involve breathing at six breaths per minute induce favourable psychological and possibly physiological effects."
“These effects result from, at least in part, synchronisation of respiratory and cardiovascular central rhythms.”
If you are wanting to trial the six-breaths-per-minute yourself, I suggest starting with a 4-5 second breath before working up to the 10 second-long breath.
In a later study, Professor Bernardi also showed that the same 6-per minute breathing lowered blood pressure for those suffering hypertension and reduced sympathetic activity.
In other words, a whole host of conditions are improved simply by breathing mindfully and in particular to intentionally slowing the breath.
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
The problem with Mindfulness is: it is too simple.
Yet, as I always say: there is a gulf of difference between doing it and not doing it.
AN EXTRA TECHNICAL BIT AT THE END:
Warning: Thick medical terminology follows!… familiarity with medico-speak is required.
"A slow respiratory rate (6/min) has generally favourable effects on cardiovascular and respiratory function and increases respiratory sinus arrhythmia, the arterial baroreflex, oxygenation of the blood, and exercise tolerance.
“In chronic heart failure it also reduces the exaggerated sensitivity of the respiratory chemoreflex, and improves irregular breathing.
“Slow respiration may reduce the deleterious effects of myocardial ischaemia, and, in addition, it increases calmness and wellbeing. These effects result from, at least in part, synchronisation of respiratory and cardiovascular central rhythms.
“A respiratory rate of around 6/min coincides with and thus augments the 10 second (6/min) Mayer waves, and so increases the power of vagal respiratory sinus arrhythmia.
- Professor Bernardi
The Yin Side Of Breathing: Benefits Of YogaBy: Gaia Staff | December 27, 2010
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