Breathe Like You Mean Business
It’s something that we all do – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, each and every year that we spend on this planet – and we do it without thinking about it. It can be effortless and silent or laboured and loud, particularly in the dead of night and much to the annoyance of the person next to you. It is the act of breathing and today I’d like to invite you to actually stop and think about it for once.
For all those in need of a – very brief! – biology refresher, breathing is a mechanical process that boils down to the exchanging of gases – oxygen comes in to blood to provide the body with energy and carbon dioxide is expelled as it flows out of the body. The average healthy adult takes anything between 8 and 20 regular breaths per minute while not exerting great amounts of energy.
Nevertheless, because it comes so naturally many of us are guilty of just leaving the body to do its thing, without ever lifting an oxygenated finger to help with the process. And by not working with our breathing, are we – or our bodies, brains and whole personas – missing out?
Breathing Boosts Presentation Performance
I am a big advocate of the breath being a tool that every professional should be aware of and keep finely tuned. Breathing correctly can improve presentation and performance significantly, helping to steady the nerves, controlling pitch and tone and aiding with projection. As well as significantly contributing to a more effective use of our voice and how we actually sound it also creates ‘presence’. As a rule of thumb, those who have ‘presence’ tend to be breathing slowly and deeply. Watch somebody who you consider has presence breathe and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t watch too closely or obviously though…
Thus aside, training the breath also has significant mental health benefits. The pandemic has challenged us all as the daily lives we took for granted suddenly and unexpectedly flipped in March of this year. In the process, anxiety levels have crept up in many people’s lives as we’ve tried to bring some measure of control to a situation that has been way beyond our personal power.
Breathing To Beat Stress
Over the course of the past few months growing numbers of enlightened – and I mean this in a very grounded, down to earth and non-new age way! – have sought out the benefits of breathing as a mechanism to help manage this process. By changing the way they breathe, and their relationship with breathing, these enlightened breathers have discovered that focusing on deep and measured breaths can be very effective for dealing with stress and anxiety.
We all know that taking a few deep breaths is just what the doctor orders when faced with a stressful situation, but why? The answer lies in its activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Never heard of it? Well this big old bag of nerves is responsible for stimulating the digestion, assimilation and conservation of energy and, crucially, promotes rest. The great thing about the breath is that when we are in a state of anxiety and therefore our breathing is shallow and snatched (thereby making us more anxious) we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system to switch on a more restful state of being. The key thing here is to engage your diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle that lives just below your ribs) as you breathe. As you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and pulls down, displacing your abdominal viscera (i.e. your belly expands – taking a deep breath does not mean puffing up the chest) and this breath control is what will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. To really relax, ensure that your exhalation lasts longer than your inhalation (inhale
for a mental count of around three and exhale to a mental count of around eight – this is not a precise science). A few of these deep breaths in any situation will really help with the anxiety.
Breathe Like You Mean It!
Perhaps the hardest bit of deep breathing is actually remembering to do it! Our bodies are so used to doing ‘just enough’ to get by, that they need to be challenged to go that extra layer deeper. When you first begin focusing on deep breaths it may well feel strange, unnatural even. However regular practice will not only make the process flow, but it isn’t long before muscle memory is triggered. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes, the more you wonder why you didn’t do it more often before…