Breathing, something we do automatically thousands of times each day. Even if we try to hold our breath, our brain takes over after just a few seconds and forces us to breathe. It’s so automatic that we take it for granted, But breathing is not just our body’s built-in function for staying alive, it’s also a tool that you can manipulate for the benefit of your body and brain.
Yoga and meditation fans already understand that breathing is imperative to a successful stretching of muscles or relaxing of the mind, but there’s even more to it than that. Breath control can beneficially regulate your blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and your body’s negative reaction to emotional stress. Specific breathing technics can also help control the brain’s release (or cessation) of chemicals and hormones that affect your organs and central nervous system. How’s that for something we ignore all day long?
Here’s the key, you must become more aware of your breathing. The easiest way to do this is by studying your breathing habits and keeping a mental or written diary. Over the course of the next few days, take note of your breathing many times throughout the day and especially during specific situations – like when exercising, arguing, driving in traffic, working, dealing with your children, watching TV, and even when eating. Pay attention to the speed you breath, the depth or shallowness of your breaths, and whether it’s from your nose or mouth.
A lot can be learned from these days of study about how you handle stress and how your body is being affected by what you’re focusing on (or more likely fretting over). Set an hourly alarm on your watch or smart phone if you need help remembering to pay attention to your breathing.
Once you see where/when the most detrimental affects are occurring (i.e., rise in blood pressure or heart rate, stress headaches, tension throughout the body, etc.) the next time you find yourself in that situation(s) try this:
Stop what you’re doing
Close your eyes
Take 10 very slow, deep breaths.
The best technique for this is to breathe in through the nose to a count of 7, hold for 3, and then exhale through the mouth to a count of 10. It might take a little training to become comfortable with this count-and-breathe method, but it’s so worth it. If you want blatant proof of the positive affects of this, place your right fingers upon your left wrist (finding the pulse point) and feel it slow down as you breathe).
I cannot stress enough how important breathing is – and for reasons you might have never realized. Go ahead, take a moment and see for yourself. Breathe in, breathe out, repeat.
When I was a child (decades ago) we were taught in school that the United States was created to be the “land of opportunity.” A place where you could live free from persecution for being different or believing in a different God, and achieve your dreams of building a business which would provide you flexibility and financial security. People worked hard but also enjoyed a nationwide observance of Sundays off, a week at Christmas, and summer vacations where we drove cross-country and played together as a family.
Things sped up, and now we are a Country obsessed with being operational 24/7, sleep/rest be damned. With society on the whole working longer hours, having too many obligations and distractions, and entire generations of families that live for their measly 1-2 weeks of paid vacation, it’s no wonder high blood pressure and depression are on the rise with both adults and children.
In case you didn’t know, the US is the “only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday” according to USA Today. “By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Austria, which guarantees workers the most time off, has a legal minimum of 22 paid vacation days and 13 paid holidays each year. The average private sector U.S. worker receives 16 paid vacation days and holidays. One in four Americans does not have a single paid day off.”
Don’t even get me started on how many children are not afforded enough play time compared to the “olden days” – with school times starting earlier and running longer, homework averaging two hours a night for most middle-school kids, and four hours for high school, and then there’s an average of four to ten hours a week spent on team sports involvement or music/dance study – it’s no wonder kids have little time to actually stand outside and simply play.
All of this is tragic to me. But clearly my weekly blog and virtual soapbox is not going to change this. But what change I can encourage is that of personal time management to allow play time to be a part of your, and your kids’, weekly schedule.
One of the fundamental aspects of my business Dane Life Fitness is to help my clients carve out time where they can be artistically creative (using the right sides of their brains) or regularly play with their children (or adult friends), whether it be a card game or biking together, etc. Just some time spent on a weekly basis where they can let go of all the mental issues that stress us out (and the physical results therefrom). This play time is essential to a healthy internal and external life, as well as providing huge benefits to the core function of a family.
So whether or not you have paid vacation time, I challenge you to pick up an artistic hobby, a group sport or activity, or at least plan (and achieve) a weekly trip to the park to play catch or frisbee with your kids or adult friends. I also suggest you find a way to take at least one week a year to do something that is not just visiting relatives in another state (unless you find that relaxing). You need to get away and decompress. Your kids need do that too!
So enough staring at a computer screen – GO PLAY!