By LeAnn Thieman. This was originally published on LeAnn's blog.
Few of us need to be encouraged to be mentally active. Instead, most of us need a nudge — or a shove — to take time every day for mental rest and relaxation.
Deep relaxation breathing is one of the best and most effective tools, but it is so simple that most people discount it. It’s the same breathing technique that’s taught in yoga and childbirth classes.
This rhythmic breathing not only releases stress and tension but endorphins, the chemical in our brain that causes us to feel good. I’m told endorphins have the same molecular makeup as morphine! We have this “drug” on tap and forget to use it by doing rhythmic breathing.
I was a childbirth educator for thirteen years, and I taught moms to breathe slowly, deeply, and easily to reduce stress in labor. The same principles apply as we “labor” through life. When laboring women get too stressed, they have increased adrenaline and that shuts down the release of oxytocin, which is responsible for making the uterus contract and the baby come out. Too much adrenaline from increased stress makes for a longer, harder labor.
Stress raises adrenaline levels in all of us, putting us into the “fight or flight mode,” an ancient survival mechanism left over from when cavemen were chased by wild beasts. In this mode, our bodies send all the energy and circulation to the organs that are needed at that moment and take energy away from those not needed for survival at that time. That’s why our hearts beat so fast and our breathing is so rapid when we get scared.
We need a heartbeat and breathing to survive. What we don’t need is a bladder. That’s why kindergarteners wet their pants on stage. They are so nervous up there trying to sing their songs, their little hearts and lungs are working overtime to help them survive. That’s also why the bride has to go to the bathroom just one more time before she walks down the aisle or guys at work have to duck into the men’s room before talking to their supervisor. Think of the last time you were really nervous and afraid. Did you have to go to the bathroom?
You’ve likely read stories of a hero in a “fight or flight mode” who lifted a car off the injured victim, proving that adrenaline kicks in to help the organs needed to survive. Too much adrenaline, however, interrupts healthy body functions. Breathing and relaxing decrease adrenaline output and allow our organs and body parts to work at their best and “save” us.
Let’s breathe slow, deep, and easy three to four times a day for three to four minutes and relax.
Simply breathe In-two-three-four, Out –two-three-four. The breaths should be slow, deep, and easy from your abdomen. Imagine a hot air balloon expanding in your chest with each breath in, then deflating as you exhale. Breathe in a relaxing pace you could keep up for hours, never feeling short of breath. Breaths will grow deeper as you continue. You can add a thought with each, perhaps breathing in thinking, “I am-two-three four” and out “relaxed-two-three-four.”
Continue this for three to four minutes three to four times a day. The good news is we can do it in the breakroom, bathroom, or even at our desks or the bedside.
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune at their own private pace, like the ticking of a clock during a thunderstorm.”
Quiet your mind. Breathe. Relax.
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