When was the last time someone stopped you and told you “Take a Deep Breath”? In the heat of the moment, this is very difficult, but it also the key to bringing the body back to its natural state of integrated mind-body function. Our breath is a powerful tool that can be used to calm the body and mind, relieving stress and supporting focus and calm. We have it with us wherever we go and it doesn’t cost us anything at all! You can practice this tool using my recent podcast episode, 7 Mindful Minutes, Twenty Breaths Practice, available on Soundcloud, iTunes, or Stitcher.
This all goes back to our evolutionary prioritization of survival. Our bodies are engineered to survive when faced with immediate physical threats from animals like tigers and bears. This system depends on lighting-quick reaction with simple, habitual actions. Our pre-frontal cortex, our thinking mind, must be bypassed because there simply isn’t time to think it through. Blood and energy are diverted from our brain, our immune system, our stomach and other organs and redirected to our legs and our butt. This improves our ability to run and jump as we evade the tiger.
We feel butterflies. We begin to sweat. Our heart and breathing rate accelerate, all to support us in our flight from the tiger. We call this Fight or Flight, our stress response.
In modern society, we don’t have these physical threats as the tigers are safely inside the zoo or reservation and we spend our time in climate-controlled buildings. However this same stress response system tries to protect us from new emotional and psychological stimulus that don’t threaten our physical safety. Nonetheless, when we speak in public, get in an argument or find ourselves stuck in traffic, our Fight or Flight response is triggered.
We can’t control the sweat, the racing heart, our immune or digestive system, but we have one tool that is always with us, our own breath. By bringing gentle, non judging attention to each inhale and exhale, we can suppress Fight or Flight in favor of our natural Rest and Digest mode, the Relaxation Response. With our breath, we can slow our heart and bring our digestive, immune and cognitive systems back online.
Please save the date or register today for two upcoming retreats hosted by Marc Balcer, Your Mindful Coach:
Cultivating the Heart of Compassion, a half-day meditation retreat on Saturday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. near King of Prussia, PA
Compassion, Kindness, Joy and Balance, a weekend retreat in the mountains, from June 16-18 near Wilkes-Barre, PA.
Enter the promo code “NEWS” for $10 off these events.
Recently, I wrote a blog post for my school community, “Mindfulness Made Simple . . . But Not Easy.” I shared the following thoughts:
What is Mindfulness?
At its simplest, mindfulness can be defined as “paying curious attention to what is happening right now.” That being said, there is a misconception that mindfulness will clear your mind or eliminate negative sensations. Nothing could be further from the truth. With mindfulness, you use the tools of your breath, your body, and your senses to become aware of your experience with curiosity instead of judgment. This awareness allows you to respond thoughtfully to events as they unfold instead of reacting to them out of habit.
Focus on Focusing
While meditation is one way to practice mindfulness, anything done with a singular focus is practice. This isn’t easy. Our multi-tasking world has us listening to music while running, sending text messages while driving, and watching television while eating. Not only has multi-tasking been shown to reduce productivity by as much as 40%, but also it encourages us to be in “fight or flight” mode. This stress response was meant to be an occasional system for managing physical threats, but today chronic stress follows many Americans wherever they go. Focusing on the present moment activates an alternative “rest and digest” relaxation response. So when you are driving, you are driving, when you are eating, you are eating, and so on.