Monday, January 7, 2013

Just Breathe

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So who amongst is not stressed? Day-to-day life can be demanding between school, work, family, etc. Have you ever seen anyone looking Zen during their daily commute? Whether you’re sitting in traffic or fighting your way into a crowded subway car, just getting to work can set your stress levels on overdrive before you even get there. Add to that the current state of the world; unrest and violence in multiple parts of the world , continuing fiscal doom, our elected officials acting like 5 year olds that don’t know how to play nice in the sandbox or how even normally “safe” places like schools and movies theaters don’t even provide the respite they use to. Just watching the news is enough to stress anyone out!

I always love the idea of being one of those people who could mediate and do yoga for hours. I see all these yoga teachers who just scream Zen existence with their gentle movements and soft, soothing voices. When I do actually take a yoga class I feel amazing after, but I have a really hard time relaxing and quieting the mind. Don’t even get me started on trying to meditate! Disaster! I am the typical New Yorker who only knows how to go at 100mph in everything I do – slowing down is just not in my vocabulary! I can’t lie, there is a big part of me that does love my “New Yorkness” and would not want to be any other way (I know you non-New Yorkers think we are all insane…and even we know we are a little crazy…), however being on constant overdrive does wear on the body.

Fortunately there are some, simple ways I have found to find my version of Zen, even if only for a New York minute. The power of breath is an amazing thing. I have heard this for years and in general just pooh-poohed it, but then I started reading some stuff by Dr. Andrew Weil and he inspired me to give it a shot. He recommended the following simple 4-7-8 breathing exercise1:

· Inhale for 4 counts
· Hold breath for 7 counts
· Exhale fully for 8 counts (squeeze out as much of the air in your lungs that you can!)

I started out by repeating this 4 times every morning and now have increased it to 10 times. Although I have managed to slow down my morning routine a bit, so I am not running around like a crazy person dressing and shoveling my breakfast in my mouth all that the same time, weekday mornings are anything but relaxing. Taking that few minutes a day really calms me before I walk out the door. You know your day is going to be what it is, but I always feel like starting out on the right foot helps. We have all had those days where everything goes wrong; you oversleep, your shower runs out of cold water, you get halfway to work and realize you forgot something, etc…you know it is all downhill from there…

Those few minutes of conscious breathing have now become a part of my daily routine. And the great thing about it is you can do it anywhere! Even at work, when I am so frustrated at times I want to rip my hair out, instead of sitting there and fuming I go to the bathroom for a few minutes and just breathe. Now I will admit there are days I literally am in there 10 times (my colleagues must think I have the tiniest bladder on the planet!), but it does work! And I do think it trains your body to more easily get to that relaxed state when you most need it.

We don’t have control over a lot of things, but there are small things we can do that really do provide an incredible benefit. Hey if this crazy New Yorker can do it, so can you!

See below links for more information on stress reduction through conscious breathing and the impact of stress on the body:

1Dr. Weil: Breathing Exercise

Dr. Weil: Art and Science of Breathing

Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

Stress Can Shorten Your Life Span

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