Updated: May 7
And you've made it - you are ready to take your first breath!
OK, I gest, but in one way I'm serious. If you've followed the blogs through from 1 to 3, and this is all new to you, now we'll start to put your new-found knowledge into practice. This is also the first blog that will have an accompanying Keycast.
Let us look at breathing in a controlled environment. Learning this will allow you to go mobile out of your controlled environment, into your everyday life. This is where the key to breathing also becomes the key to living your everyday life with that inner peace and mindfulness you are looking for.
Remember your key in blog 3? Inhaling activates your SNS, while breathing out, your PNS. And it's our parasympathetic nervous system we want to activate more so because it helps put our internal brakes on, slowing down our heart rate, relaxing our muscles and generally helping to calm our minds and emotions. For this reason, we are going to look at two types of breathing exercises, both of which emphasise longer counts when exhaling than inhaling.
Before we delve into these, here are 10 things to keep in mind:
Remember what you learnt in blog 2 about diaphragmatic breathing.
When practising the breathing techniques below, remember to breathe in a controlled and slow manner, breathing in and out through the nose.
You may find it useful, while breathing, to place the palm of one hand gently on your chest and the palm of the other gently on your stomach. This will allow you to "monitor" your breathing technique as explained in blog 2. Sometimes, rather than placing a hand, use only the tips of your fingers, lightly placing them on your body.
I recommend closing your eyes while doing your breathing exercises. It will help prevent distractions and allow you to focus solely on what is happening within. Some people use an eye mask to help with blocking out light, to help provide a more immersive experience.
Some people find it useful to use a metronome to help with maintaining a regular count and to help with focus. If you don't have a physial one, you can easily download these from most app stores. Some will come with the ability to adjust the pitch, so you can change it to a sound that is soothing to you. I would recommend you start by setting the metronome to a count of 60 beats a minute, which is obviously the same count as seconds. As you become more experienced, you can begin to slow this down to 55, and then 50 beats a minute.
Feel free to use soothing music in the background, but nothing with words as you don't want your mind to tune in to them. Chanting or singing bowls are also good choices.
Remember we are doing a conscious act, (blog 1), so let your body know this by purposefully placing yourself in a particular position. Your options? Lie on the floor or on your bed, with arms by your side. Sit upright in either of those places too. A better option if you are pregnant is on a chair or sofa. If sitting, make sure to keep your back upright and your spine in a neutral position, relaxing your hands on your lap or legs so you can relax your arms unless you are using them to monitor your breathing. The important thing here is to be comfortable and in a space that makes you feel relaxed.
Stay warm. You do not want to be distracted by being too cold or hot, so wear something to make sure you are comfortable.
Now, this one is important - Disconnect your social life! Yes, that means switching off your mobile devices or at the very least, switching off notifications. You do not want them to pull you out of your breathing time. The whole point here is to pull you away from the "noise" of everyday life that is so loud we no longer have any idea what our hearts and inner selves are saying to us. See this time as precious and as a much needed mental and emotional retreat from the outside world. Turning off your devices can help. If you are using a metronome app, then it is even more important to switch off those notifications.
Remember that this is your journey. Not my journey. Neither does it belong to anyone else, so stop comparing. This is about you. Your time. Your space. The key to the new you. My words here are a guide, helping you find your way. Some you will choose to stick to and others you will adapt. As you practice your breathing and turn this into the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation, you will discover what works for you and what doesn't. The important thing is not to give up but rather to make your practice a regular habit. A journey can't be made with only a couple of steps - it would hardly be worth starting. A life-journey is on-going, never-ending. While it is step by step, each step must happen. The beautiful thing about life journeys is that each day brings with it new blessings and discoveries, signposts and possibilities. Sounds good right? So build in regular daily sessions for conscious breathing. Before you know it, these will become regular sessions for mindfulness and meditation.
Your blog key here is repeat, repeat, repeat. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.
Practising your breathing techniques and building a quiet time into your life, takes dedication and focus and needs to be done at least, most days of the week. Being repetitive will help it become part of your normal routine. Without building up your ability to connect with your PNS you will hinder your progress. It's like learning anything for the first time, you are building new neural pathways. So repeat, repeat, repeat!
The 1:2 breathing technique
Simply put, this is about breathing in for half the count you breath out for. So let's say you count to 3 when you breathe in, you would then count to 6 as you breath out. If you breathe in for 2 counts, then breathe out for 4 counts.
This is a great place to start. It is a simple and easy way into your new breathing journey.
As you ease into this and feel you can extend your count, then you have two options.
Slow down your count. Either in your head or of your metronome if you have chosen to use one. Go down gradually and only to what is comfortable and to that which continues to help relax you.
Increase your count number. E.g. Go up to breathing in for 4 counts and out for 8.
(If you are asthmatic, please take extra care NOT to shallow breath, (blog 2), and maybe take a little longer before you choose to extend/slow down your breathing count. Consult your doctor should you have any questions about your condition and using extended deep breathing techniques such as these.)
The 3:3:6 breathing technique
This introduces the "Hold". The first number 3 is your breathe in count. The second number 3 is the count to which you will hold your breath. The 6 is the count used to exhale.
Note: When holding your breath, it is important not to tense your body while doing so. It is tempting too because it is not something we naturally do and the brain's initial assumption from this is to think something is wrong. So, if this is new to you, I would suggest sticking with the 1:2 breathing technique above until you have extended that to a longer count, before coming to this "Hold" technique. Once you get here, know that initially, your brain may worry about you holding your breath. But over time, as you practice, your brain will understand that you are in full control, there is nothing to worry about, and it will associate this act with a relaxation technique.
If at any point you feel dizzy, then please stop. Open your eyes. Breathe normally and allow it to pass. Listen to your body - are you tired, do you need sugar or water, were you breathing for longer than you can? When you feel able, try your breathing technique once again. Should the dizziness return, please stop and speak with your doctor about it.
Please refer to the relevant Keycast for each of these techniques. Each is less than 5min and is a guide in the breathing technique, using a counting speed of one count a second.
Try to find 5-10min each day to practice one of these. Remember this is a journey and it will take this becoming a habit to make a difference for you.
Using either breathing technique, you can now go mobile with it. Practice using it when outside of your breathing space. Especially when you find yourself with your SNS being triggered. You might be commuting, in a meeting, being bumped into on the street, have received some challenging or difficult news, about to do something that scares you to death like public speaking or performing to a group of people. In moments like this, you can simply engage with your breathing technique. You don't even need to close your eyes. What you do need to do is put all your focus and attention on your breathing. All the better if you can locate a mobile breathing space - like a toilet, leaning against a wall, or if you have a seat on your commute, (not if you're driving!!) - where you can close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Repeat each cycle of breathing, (in and out), three times. Do this twice as a minimum and extend to whatever short time you have, be it 5 or 10min.
The idea is that as you build up your relationship and dialogue with your body and your PNS in your home breathing space, you will become more able to "go back there", in a virtual way, while you are mobile.
Your journey has begun!
And there we have it. Your first steps into breathing properly and consciously. Your first steps in mindfulness and meditation. Your first steps into being stronger than those fears, anxieties, worries, concerns, agitations and the like. Your first steps into becoming stronger, lighter, happier, more grateful and more compassionate.
Welcome to the journey. May it bless you and excite you.
In blog 5, we will briefly look at what visualisation is and how it can be a key to unlocking more treasures on your journey. Remember to check out the keycasts for free to download audio guides.