You’ve heard the expression “just take a breath” more than once. Maybe it was from your mother when you were an upset child or from a friend trying to help you prepare for an important presentation. It’s usually at a moment of upset or stress. It’s good advice. It works. Have you ever wondered why?
One of my favorite books about how the breath, actually three deep breaths, can shift life is a short book by Thomas Crum, called Three Deep Breaths: Finding Power and Purpose in a Stressed-Out World.
Crum wrote the book in a friendly parable type format to make it enjoyable and easy to see how just breathing can quickly address our ongoing need to manage stress. What I like most about the book is Crum’ss back ground as an Aikido master. Its not about deflecting In the book Crum writes, “Stress is a major health epidemic, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, Crum says, studies show that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care practitioners are stress-related. Unmanaged stress can influence everything from the onset of heart attacks and strokes, to gastrointestinal problems, diabetes and insomnia, to headaches and depression. What’s more, stress can jeopardize our vitality, creativity, productivity and joy — costing us a fortune in psychic energy.”
You probably have experienced some of these and frankly it’s like getting hijacked again and again and again. For most of us there are many, many forms of abundance in our lives. But we get caught up in what my teenage daughter calls “ first world problems.” No matter what world the problems come from it feels the same when that suffocating feeling of stress visits.
But how can something like breathing work? All the involuntary systems of the body: heart rate, perspiration, dilation of your pupils and breathing to name just a few are part of what is called the autonomic nervous system.
With stress, the sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the autonomic nervous system, sends your body its first alert for it to get ready to take action. That means fight or flight. Sound familiar?
Your body starts pumping adrenaline, you begin to have rapid, shallow breaths as the heart starts breathing faster. This response is involuntary and there is not much we can do to control it— except to breathe.
“Breathing is the one direct interface between our voluntary and involuntary systems,” says Crum. “It is the one activity that can happen without our conscious effort, and yet we can also choose to control it consciously, right now.”
Best of all, notes Crum, “The Three Deep Breaths allow people to begin a conscious practice without any prior knowledge of breathing techniques and without more time taken from their daily schedule,” says Crum.
So how does it work? The first breath, the Centering Breath, is to calm and regain a sense of control over your body, and your response to the situation. Sitting or standing, ground down to the earth through your feet and feel the crown of your head rise to the sky. Completely empty your lungs with an exhale. Inhale and feel yourself weightless, yet completely grounded. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose. The inhalation expands the belly and the exhale draws the belly in. Give the breath your full attention and let the breath be slow, deep and quiet. Bring your attention to the exact moment you are in, abide in the present moment just as it is.
The second breath, the Possibility Breath, restores a sense of calm to your mind and allows you to see what is the best (highest) choice in that moment. On the way to work this might be “I’m ready to work with my colleagues and give my all to the project we’re working on today.” Or if you are on your way home it might look like “I’m a patient and compassionate parent ready to appreciate my children.”
The third breath, the Discovery Breath, reunites you with your spirit and helps to reframe a stressful situation into a learning opportunity. Breath in the possibilities and awareness of the bigger picture. Crum offer the questions, “Are my next words or actions going to come from an intent to defend or from an intent to learn?” “Is this a fight to be right or an adventure of discovery?”
Can these simple breaths and focus of each change things, really? Absolutely! You can reframe all of life and begin to feel more in control and less like a puppet being pulled by strings of past hurts and anger that are being thrown as projections onto the future. Suspend judgment and see how much easier it is to flow with life, and the breath. Just three deep breaths. That’s all.
When to find time?
In an elevator…you’re just staring at the numbers anyway.
In your car, it’s your personal mini meditation mobile.
Waiting for a Google search, or a file to load on your computer.
Waiting in line for your coffee or at the grocery store. The tabloid articles are really not that life inspiring anyway.
Before a meeting to collect your thought and be prepared and present for better performance.