The pajamas are off, some of us are actually wearing lipstick again, and more and more of us are back in our cars, heading back to the office (what?), the dance/soccer/baseball/gymnastics studios and fields, and even on VACATION! Can I get a “what what”? These things can bring their own new sets of feelings of anxiety, excitement, and even anger, thanks to that person that just cut you off.
The rate and level of spaciousness by which you are breathing is one of the biggest indicators of how your body is reacting to any given situation, or any given state of mind. Your body is continuously, automatically changing not only by what you are doing but how you are feeling. However, HOW we breathe affects the body in more ways than I have space to list here. But here is a little test: after reading this, close your eyes, and breathe in and out a few rounds of breath. Does your breath stay high in your chest? Does your abdomen soften and expand? What’s happening in the back body? Is the breath quick and sharp? Long and even? No judgement, just making mental notes.
Think of it this way. If you are suddenly frightened you gasp. (Feel free to try it now!) A quick inhalation high into the head and chest. Your heart rate will go up a little. Maybe a few muscles tense, including your abdominal wall. Your body is preparing to flee the situation or stand and fight. You’ve activated the Sympathetic Nervous System.
Now what happens when you realize that it was just your spouse coming out the door as you were trying to go in? “Ah”, you breathe a sigh of relief. (Try that). Crisis averted, your breath says “everything good here”, and the body knows to shift back. (Unless he caught you coming home with some more new boots. Whoopsies!) Parasympathetic Nervous System in action.
“Hacking into” this system is easier than you may think. Change the body, change the mind! Thank you Billy Blanks for that mantra. So here are my Three Breathing Techniques for surviving your next car ride like a master of the universe.
“Extended Exhale Breath”
Feeling overwhelmed about a presentation that day, a not-so-kind co-worker, or someone seriously just cut you off trying to make that exit? Try extended exhale breathing. Extending the length of the exhale from the length of the inhale has a calming effect.
- Inhale through the nose, drawing breath from the back of the throat (think Darth Vader sound), keeping the throat, jaw and brow relaxed, to the count of 4.
- Exhale through the nose to the count of 6… or 8.
- Repeat at least 6 times, and longer if needed, or it’s just feeling that good.
It’s really that easy. As you continue, and as your body begins to relax, bring your attention lower into the abdomen, softening as you go. You may find a natural pause at the top of your breath. Go with it. Allow everything to expand: the ribs, the belly, the back body, the throat. Mmmmmmmm. Maybe, just maybe, gently curl up the sides of your mouth. See how that feels.
“Shush of Fire”
It’s the 3pm slump, or the work day has ended and you are beat, and your day is far from over. Don’t reach for a soda or more coffee. It’s time to activate “Shush of Fire”. With this technique you are getting fired up, stoking your inner fire, getting ready for action.
- Big inhale through the nose.
- Exhale, make a “shush” sound through a complete exhale. Feel how this sound activates the entire abdominal wall.
- Low belly stays gently held in, take a half breath in.
- Rhythmically make this shush sound to the count of 20 to 30, passively inhaling between each shush, forcibly shushing. Stay focused on the exhales. (Finding a good mid-tempo song to do this with will help to find a good rhythm.)
- On your last exhale, pause in the emptiness for a few beats, and then take a full, easy round of breath.
- Repeat 3 to 4 times.
As you become more comfortable with the sensations of “Shush of Fire”, remove the “shush” sound and move to a “ha” sound through the mouth. Want to go further? Close the mouth, keeping a soft jaw, inhale and exhale through the nose, making a sniffing sound but not forcing a sniff, working your way up to 90 full seconds per round. This is the more “true form” of Breath of Fire, but as in most things with yoga, it is a journey.
“The Space Between Breath”
Is your pre-teen or teen droning on and on about nonsense and talking in a circular motion? Or maybe you are trying to stay present but calm as they practice driving. Try what I like to call “The Space Between Breath”, often referred to as 4/4 breathing.
- Inhale through the nose for 4 counts.
- Pause for 4 counts.
- Exhale for 4 counts.
- Pause for 4 more counts before taking another exhale. The mind may start to chatter at you like “hey, take a breath already!” Stay calm.
This breathing technique is truly one of my favorites. The more you practice this technique the easier it is to stay present, and “respond instead of react”. The more you practice this the easier it becomes to stay calm in this state of slight agitation. You are in control. Mind over matter. Freedivers are training their bodies and minds in this way, and if they can go for 3, 6 or even 9 minutes, you can do it for the count of 4. Once that starts feeling good, play around with making it a count of 6… or 8!
*Do not do more than a couple rounds if YOU are the driver! However, if you’ve been practicing this at home you’ll feel the calm but present effect in just a few rounds. (What you practice grows stronger!) If you practice for an extended period of time you could just lull yourself to sleep, thus making it an excellent part of your bedtime routine, or for air travel… but that’s for another day.
I wish you peace in all your journeys, and may they all bring you somewhere better and wiser than where you started.
From my heart, Anna
P.S. If you are interested in a deep dive into how the body and the mind are responding to the ways you breathe, not only the rates at which you breath, but the difference of breathing through the mouth as opposed to the nose, I highly recommend the book “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. It’s a fascinating read that could change the way you look at your breath forever.
Don’t forget to check out my retreat in Punta Cana, where we will explore all kinds of wonderful breath work techniques!