It’s August and we’re still deeply entrenched in learning to live with this pandemic. Back in March this would have seemed unbelievable…yet here we are.
One thing I’ve told myself many times during these past months is “Take a deep breath.” I’ve also given this sage advice to those I love…though I admit there are times I only get a sigh and an “eye roll” response. In spite of these reactions I’ll continue suggesting “take a deep breath”, because the power of our breath is quite remarkable and powerful! Deep focused breathing can transform the stress response (fight or flight) to the relaxation response.
A July 2020 Harvard Health Publishing article entitled Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response cites the benefits of deep breathing as a way to shift away from the stress response. The article says, “The stress response suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression.” We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, especially now as we’re constantly adjusting our daily routines and continually processing new information. What we can do is look for healthier ways of responding to our stress, which will in turn help us to boost our immune system during this pandemic.
The article continues, “One way (to respond in a healthier way) is to invoke the relaxation response, through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways, including meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation.Breath focus is a common feature of several techniques that evoke the relaxation response. The first step is learning to breathe deeply.”
Many people are not consciously aware of how they’re breathing or the difference between shallow and deep breaths. Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion, so the lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious. Deep breathing brings full oxygen exchange resulting in slowing the heart rate and often lowering blood pressure as well, in addition to eliciting a sense of calmness. There is no magic in deep breathing though it does take some practice.
There are many books and reference articles written on the subject of the connection between our breath and our nervous system and there are also many different techniques to regulate our breath. I want to share with you a book that tells a wonderful story and teaches a unique breath technique.
Sometimes a very small book delivers a very big teaching, andin his book Three Deep Breaths: Finding Power and Purpose in a Stressed-Out World Thomas Crum accomplishes just that.
Meet Angus, the book’s relatable hero. He is a stressed out, harried businessman constantly feeling behind the eight ball and searching elusively for his work/life balance. Through often-humorous encounters along the way he is exposed to the deceptively simple, extraordinarily effective Three Deep Breath technique.
Crum writes, “Science has shown us that there are three “C’s” of a stress resistant immune system:
- A sense of CONTROL over your response to life events
- A sense of COMMITTMENT to something beyond your ego (i.e., family, service, religion, or life purpose).
- A sense of CHALLENGE and learning opportunity when confronted with a stressor.
“The Three Deep Breaths technique is a mind-body process which allows us to achieve the three C’s while balancing our autonomic nervous system through the breath.”
- Breath # 1: The Centering Breath: Breathe in the present moment, with balance and energy
- Breath # 2: The Possibility Breath: Breathe in the “me I want to be” with power and purpose
- Breath # 3: The Discovery Breath: Breathe in the mystery, let go of judgment
The Centering Breath gives us the calm and balance we need to respond appropriately rather than react negatively in stressful situations.
The Possibility Breath reminds us of a purpose higher than our egos.
The Discovery Breath turns a stressful situation into a crucial learning opportunity.
Angus finds a way to find a sense of calm in the midst of chaos and turn his stress into positive energy. That’s why he’s the book’s hero!
And the best news—the book is delightfully lighthearted while delivering a powerful message.
So, whether you choose to read this book or not, my hope is you will begin to notice your breathing and find the time to stop and take a deep breath to re-center when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
Sometimes the simplest step can be a game changer.
So, let your belly go and BREATHE!