- “I’m busy. I don’t really have time to stop and think about my breathing.” Breathing is one of those things you have to do anyway, so why not choose — at least some of the time — to do it in a way that lowers your stress level, increases your awareness and improves your sense of well-being? If you think you get more done by breathing fast and shallow all day long, you’re kidding yourself. The quality of your thoughts, attention, mood and energy are all improved by taking slower, deeper breaths — particularly when you’re under stress. And even if you pause just once or twice a day to breathe deeply, you will probably find that your productivity benefits in ways you didn’t anticipate.
- “The times I most need to breathe deeply, I’m so stressed, I find it really hard to do.” That’s a great thing to be aware of. And you have the power change it if you choose. Whenever you make the conscious decision to try something new, you start becoming more aware of your habitual actions and reactions, and the process of shifting them gradually becomes easier.Start by taking deep breaths when you’re not particularly stressed (while showering, waiting on hold, driving home from work, etc.). Notice how that feels, and then set the intention: “Next time I’m stressed or anxious, I’m going to try breathing like this.”The more often you practice the simple act of taking long, slow, full breaths, the more easily and automatically that reflex will come to you in moments of tension and stress. You might also consider taking a yoga class that emphasizes deep, rhythmic breathing. Spending a half-hour or more at a time focusing on your breath in a classroom context can make it markedly easier to shift your breathing under other conditions.
- “Whenever I start taking long, deep breaths, I feel a bunch of emotions come up — or I feel like I might cry.” Because shifting our breathing also shifts our brain patterns and biochemistry, it can have a surprisingly sudden impact on our emotions, too. Most of us carry around a great deal of tension and stuffed emotion without even realizing it. When our bodies and minds begin to relax, feelings we’ve been keeping at bay (in part by staying in fight-or-flight mode) may suddenly surge to the surface. That emotional release is generally a good thing and can bring surprising relief, but it can also be disconcerting — particularly if it starts to happen around other people or at an awkward time. If this happens to you, you may want to set aside some private time to process whatever comes up. If the emotions seem big or scary, you may want to seek some counsel and support from a counselor or therapist.
- I am willing to experiment with breathing more deeply as a way of calming my body and mind.
- I am willing to notice and acknowledge any resistance that may emerge.
- I am willing to take responsibility and ownership of my thoughts and actions.
- I am willing to own any emotions that come up and seek support in processing them if necessary.
- “I keep forgetting.”
Try practicing your breathing at specific times — like whenever you boot up your computer or stop at a red light. Leave Post-it reminders around your office and home. Set a regular calendar appointment or alarm on your phone that reminds you to take a few deep breaths at regular intervals. The more you make it a normal part of your routine, the easier it will become to incorporate breathing into unexpected, stressful situations that may arise.
- “I’m not really comfortable with the emotions that keep coming up.”
Increasing your consciousness and releasing long-held tension can sometimes mean facing unpleasant emotions that you’ve been avoiding. But if those feelings are there, they’re there— and the sooner you allow them to move, the sooner they will clear or transform. Ignoring and stuffing them isn’t going to make them go away. In fact, it can make them that much more uncomfortable and intimidating. Zen teacher Cheri Huber says, “The moment we don’t feel present, we suffer.” In other words, the more disconnected we are, the more pain we end up inflicting on ourselves. Pursuing mindfulness, especially in the beginning, can be challenging — and even a little scary at times. But it also brings wonderful relief, insight and a profound sense of well-being. So commit to compassionately accepting and encouraging yourself, rather than recoiling or playing “keep-away” from the emotions that make you uncomfortable.Breathe through whatever discomfort arises, and seek the support or counsel you need to feel safe while working through whatever comes up.