Remember to Breathe

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?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t noticed, because 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 developing the habit of regularly stopping and connecting with your body, then resetting your energy and attention if necessary.

“How can I stop during a day when everyone wants a piece of me!?” I hear you protest. Well, if you want to enjoy your holidays, it pays to learn how. Perhaps you are familiar with the pattern of running around like a headless chook all term, only to collapse when the holidays come. Or maybe you know people who worked flat out all their career, then on retirement, developed a serious illness. When we don’t allow for rest or stillness in our lives, illness becomes the only way to stop and take a break.

“Think of breaks as the space between the notes in a song. Without these rests, the song becomes a screech or a wail.” David Kundtz.

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. It’s great to practise before arriving home or entering a classroom, as it helps you set aside your own ‘stuff’ and show up. This could sound like, “I can notice my heart beating fast, and I’m actually quite anxious, but I’m still committed to delivering the best class I can.”
  • 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. Do this for one to five minutes in the car, with your class, before eating for 10 minutes lying down before sleep. (Read more : Screen apnoea)
  • 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. At work, this is something you could do with your students or during a toilet break. It’s also a great way to unwind at the end of the day. (guided 5-minute body scan).
  • 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. (Read more: How to run BodyWise Meetings)
  • 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 and move into action from that point of stillness. Stillness indicates that your nervous system is relaxed and not running in ‘fight or flight’. Inner stillness also gives professionals that X-factor kind of presence.   When the inner buzz in your body subsides, something else wonderful happens – our relationship with time begins to transform.

You can’t achieve inner stillness overnight, but you can develop it through bringing awareness and a quality of self-care to everyday activities.

  • 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. Every day presents endless opportunities to notice how we walk, how we place our bodies on a chair and how we tap (or attack) our keyboard. Choose just one movement everyday.
  • Present moment awareness: You can bring this to anything you are already doing. You could eat lunch, for example, with your mind fully focussed 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. Why not establish a regular mindful lunch day for all staff who aren’t on playground duty? Now there’s a challenge, I know, but just start with ten even five minutes of full attention, and your digestion will thank you for it.

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.

Read More: common lies that sabotage downtime.

Read More: how to train yourself to take an energy break

Thea O’Connor is a health and productivity writer, presenter and coach.

She specialises in personal sustainability, helping individual and groups adopt healthy, sustainable and effective work habits