Breathing & Mindfulness

Although I am at a pause with my education at the moment, ‘the school year’ still holds an air of adjustment and change. Parents have to juggle extracurricular activities, help out with homework, feed the family, all while trying to find some “down time” to encourage an adequate amount of rest before getting back to the grind. For those without children we dodge the school busses and Denver traffic while trying to squeeze in family, friends and self-care in the short respite of our time off or weekends. The pace of our communities and relationships seem to be increasingly rapid. It often appears that the check-lists are running the day and we don’t experience the luxury of enough deep breaths or moments of gratitude. Many go through their day half here, and half in the next place. Fall brings a sense of urgency to balance work/school and self-care, yet it naturally constricts us as the sun dips below the mountains earlier and earlier. Before we know it, the holidays will be upon us, and 2017 will be right around the corner.

This fast-paced lifestyle is something that is welcomed by many but leads to exhaustion for others. We can’t realistically change the pace of our community but we can tap back into our body and savor a slow breath. I have noticed myself craving two exercises throughout the day in the past week. Perhaps it is because when I practice them I feel a sense of defiance towards the pace of my day. More likely, it’s because I am nurturing and tapping into my deeper sense of self. Regardless, I would like to share two favorite exercises that I practice frequently in an effort to encourage a couple more “self-care” moments in your day.

Square Breathing

Like there are 4 sides to a square, there are 4 elements to this exercise. Breathe in, hold the breath, breathe out, and repeat.

-Get in a comfortable position, and if it is safe for you, close your eyes.

-Breathe in through your nose like you are smelling a flower, and count to 4. You want to belly breath; filling up and expanding your diaphragm and feeling it lift as you breath in. If you want a noise to focus on, you can tap on the desk or table each time you count.

-Hold that breath as you count to 4.

-Exhale that breath through your mouth, as if you are blowing the seeds of a dandelion. Continuing the belly breath, notice your diaphragm sink, and your belly dropping down to your pelvis.

-To deepen the relaxation of this exercise, make a humming sound as you exhale.

Why it’s awesome: The increased oxygen to your brain and the counting stimulates your frontal lobe. The frontal lobe (or the “wizard brain”) improves your focus, helps you feel more present, clear-headed and grounded to your surroundings. Using the vocal chords activates the vagus nerve, which indicates to your body that the parasympathetic nervous system, or your calming system, should be activated. This is the opposite of your sympathetic nervous system (the “lizard brain” responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze response), and releases ant-stress enzymes and neurochemicals.

Mindfulness Guided Imagery

While I am not going to give an exact example of these exercises, depending on your personal preferences there are multiple options. The guided options give you the opportunity to have someone lead you, so you can fully participate instead of reading, immersing yourself, then glancing at the instructions again. There are some online, in the app store on you phone (Guided Mind has free meditations), or CDs . Once you find one that takes you to a place you feel safe and recharged from visiting, it is easy to incorporate that into your square breathing moments throughout the day, heightening the neuro-stimulation. If someone wants to read a mindfulness guided imagery you have found online in your home, try switching between facilitating and experiencing so it can become a household relaxation experience.

If you have other breathing or grounding exercises you incorporate into your day, as always, we would love to hear about your favorites so we can share with the rest of our Birch community.

Jordan Huber, M.A. 

Birch Psychology