Do you breathe? That is to say, do you breathe properly? Of course we all breathe, but most of us don’t breathe properly. I’ve noticed this in myself whenever I get a little more stressed. It’s actually become one of my barometers for how stressful a situation is. Because I tend to have an unusually high tolerance for crises and stress, I’ve learned to notice my stress levels in physical ways: if my jaw is clenched, for example, or my shoulders raised. But one of the best gauges I have to monitor (and diffuse) my stress level is the quality of my breath.
Especially with the holidays now in full swing, and stress levels on the increase, this might be a good tool for you, too. But first you need to know what is proper breathing. For that, let’s look at our four-legged friends: dogs and cats. I have a dog, so I will use him as an example. When I watch him breathe, it has a calming affect on me. Why? Because he’s breathing naturally. He’s not “sucking it in” or sticking out his chest. He’s simply breathing. As such, his abdomen extends and contracts with each breath. This is proper (healthy) breathing. Kids are good examples, too. If you watch a young child, they breathe the same way. Their bellies raise and fall with each breath.
But as adults, we’ve somehow learned to breathe with our shoulders and our chests. Therefore, we’re not getting the full (and calming) breath we need. Shortened breath actually triggers the fight/flight response, too. So, it’s no wonder we feel stressed a lot of the time. Therefore, one of the best ways to combat stress, or measure how stressed you might be, is to monitor your breath. Take note of your breathing patterns. Does your belly extend? Or are you primarily lifting your chest and/or shoulders? When I teach clients how to breathe, I have them imagine the breath pulling all the way down their torso to the pelvic area. This may be a tiny bit extreme, but it’s a good visual. If you can “see” the air flowing that far down, you are breathing well – deeply and properly. And you will feel better as a result.
So, how are you breathing? Even right now, as you read this? It’s not something we think about, but it’s something that can actually change your entire body and presence in the world, not to mention how you experience these last few weeks of the year.