We live in anxious, chaotic times. Watch 10 minutes of any news channel or spend time on any social media app and notice your blood pressure rise. We pride ourselves on our abilities to multi-task. You’ve seen them (or this may be us), during rush hour, driving, talking/texting, putting on make-up (or dry shaving), and eating breakfast, all the while trying to navigate successfully to our destinations. Mindfulness is a call for us to slow down and focus on one thing, one event, one activity at a time…purposeful breathing is at the foundation.
“Breathing?” you may ask, “Don’t we know how to breathe?” Clearly, it is automatic in the sense that we don’t even have to think about it. The medulla oblongata is the part of the hindbrain that detects levels of CO2 and O2 in the bloodstream and automatically determines if any changes are needed, sending nerve impulses to the heart and diaphragm to either increase or decrease activity. However, the breathing I am talking about in this blog is deliberate and intentional, to produce physiological calmness, emotional well-being, and mental clarity.
Dr. Weil offers us his 4-7-8 breathing rhythm, the “relaxing breath.” On his YouTube video, he explains that breathing in this manner over time can produce wonderfully “pleasant states of consciousness” and is one of the best ways to control anxiety and emotional reactivity (especially if you have been triggered in some manner).
To begin, hold your tongue in the Yogi position (behind front teeth, where teeth meet the gumline) exhale for a count of 8, inhale (through your nose) for the count of 4, hold this breath for a count of 7, and exhale completely for a count of 8. Do 3 more breath cycles to complete the circuit and notice any changes. Keeping the ratio is important, of note, the exhale is twice as long as the inhale and holding the breath for 7 facilitates a drop in blood pressure. Practice this throughout the day (bare minimum is twice a day), especially when you notice yourself getting upset, irritated, or otherwise emotionally reactive. Choosing to breathe in this rhythm instead of emotionally reacting allows a gap between irritant and reaction; thus, thoughtfully responding and in control of your words and actions (not emotionally reacting).
The applications for using this skill are numerous: someone cuts you off in traffic (breathe); your child speaks to you in a perceived disrespectful tone (breathe); you are in the check-out line at the store and there is no movement and your ice cream is melting (breathe); you are next in the queue to be interviewed (breathe); you are sitting down to take a test (breathe); you are getting ready to take a free-throw to win your basketball game (breathe); you get the idea. For as many anxious moments we face throughout the days, months, and years of our lives, use this breathing rhythm to calm your body and your mind and be deliberate in your words and actions. Relationships can flourish when we take the time and make the effort to regain emotional control once triggered. Practice Dr. Weil’s breathing rhythm at every opportunity…you will benefit greatly.