“Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.”—L. Frank Baum
When you work on your computer, do you find yourself hunching forward, squinting as you concentrate, your breathing constricted as you focus on the task at hand? Do you later find your shoulders and back hurt and your eyes are red and sore? You probably know that once every 30 minutes or so you need to stand up, stretch, and let your eyes focus on something distant so that they can refresh and refocus. The same is true with your breath. Throughout your day you need to refresh and breathe deeply. In this article I share a few unique and useful tools for doing this.
Deep breathing helps disperse anxiety and returns us to our natural, calm state of equilibrium. This was easier when we lived as hunter-gatherers; following the tracks of an animal or climbing a hill to look for food would naturally give pause to a few deep breaths. When we are stressed, we tend to breathe shallowly as we feel we are in “doing mode”, and when we repeat this often it can become a bad habit. In our modern, electronic world, our alert system is on high, and our devices do not give us natural breaks. So, we need to create pauses in our day. Visualizations, like the ones described below, are a great way to return to our natural, deep breathing self.
How to Breathe: Learn how to contract your diaphragm slowly and fully. It takes a little effort to pull the muscle downwards, creating a pressure differential which draws air into your lungs. Breathing out, the muscle returns to its relaxed state. As you breathe, visualize your diaphragm moving downwards. Rather than pushing your belly out with effort, just relax the stomach muscles; it will move on its own so that the internal organs can adjust for the full downward movement of the diaphragm. The key is that deep breathing should feel comfortable and satisfying.
Visualization Cues for Deep Breathing: As you read the following visualizations, your body will respond to the cues naturally, and your lungs will take in as much air as they comfortably can, bringing oxygen to all parts of your body. Breathe in and out for a minute or two with each cue.
- Mountain Cabin: You are in a cabin, high up in the mountains, surrounded by tall pine trees. See yourself in front of a warm fire burning in the stone fireplace. It is the middle of winter. Feel the heat from the fire and smell the sweet smoke from the burning logs. See the orange light from the fire reflected throughout the room. You get up and walk to the window. The panes are covered with frost and cool to the touch. The window opens as you push it gently. Outside, everything has a bluish tinge; the moon shines through the trees in the clear night sky. Take a deep breath of cool, clean, crisp, fresh mountain air. It feels so good to just breathe.You can smell the sharp scent of the pine trees, the aroma of the burning logs, and the smell of freshly fallen snow. (Adapted from William Fezler’s Creative Imagery: How to Visualize in All five Senses).
- Ocean Breeze: You are in an old Victorian house near the beach. The day has been very warm and it is coming to an end. You walk through the living room, across the thick carpet to the front door. The fresh, evening air greets you as open the door and walk out onto the landing and stairs. You grasp the solid wood handrail and walk down the long stairs to the front of the house. At the bottom of the stairs you take your shoes off. The temperature drops a few degrees to a comfortable coolness as you walk into the garden, feeling the cool grass beneath your feet. You walk through the garden to the smooth, sandy path to the beach. At the beach, the sun is setting on the horizon, far out over the ocean. A refreshing, cool breeze blows as you walk along the shore. The sand is wet where the waves have reached. You dip your finger into the water, tasting the salty sea taste. The sound of the waves greets your ears and you feel the cool water gently lap at your feet. It feels so nice after the heat of the day to breathe in the clean, cool, salty air.
- Desert Stars: You are walking in a sandy desert. The cool air is a treat after the long, hot day. As you walk, you notice the sky. There are no human lights around, only the clear night sky sprinkled with brilliant stars. The moon is a small sliver in the east, and a bright planet hangs just above it. The Milky Way cuts a clear, wide swath across the sky and you bathe in the quiet light of the stars. A shooting star, first one, followed quickly by 10 or 15 makes you stop and catch your breath. You let out your breath and then take a long, slow, deep breath of the cool, pure, refreshing night air. All tension leaves your body as you continue to breathe deeply breathe. Your shoulders, back, and hips feel great.
- A Country Lane: You are walking along a country lane. Tall trees line one side, the other side is open to the fields. The day has been lovely and it is coming to an end. As you walk along, the sun is setting and the first stars are out. It is an early summer day and the scents of the land greet you as you walk. Breathe in deeply as you walk through the sweet perfume of lilacs in bloom. You walk past the lilacs and come to a field of freshly turned earth. Breathe in the rich smell of healthy black soil. The black earth warms the cooling night air by a few degrees. You continue to walk and pass a field of freshly cut hay. Smell the sweet aroma of freshly cut hay. It smells great (now you know why cows are so happy). At the end of the walk, you come to a farm garden. A row of carrots have been pulled and lie on top of the dirt, ready to be picked up in the morning, the first of the season. Stop here and close your eyes; feel the cool air on your skin and breathe in the pleasant, rich smell of fresh carrot. It feels so good just to breathe the fresh, clean, pure country air.
Deep, natural breathing is a great way to dispel stress, reconnect with your authentic self, and rejuvenate throughout your day. When in doubt, slow down and breathe it out.