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The Breath Blueprint: Part 2 of 3
Mastering the Art of Everyday Breathwork
In the first post of this series we explored the psychological, emotional, and physical benefits of breathwork.
Distraction, stress and anxiety can stand in the way of our potential, impacting our mental performance, communication skills, leadership abilities, and overall well-being.
By incorporating mindful breathing techniques into our day-to-day routines, we can unlock the transformative power of our breath to cultivate inner calm, enhance focus, and foster a healthier mindset. Whether at home or in the workplace, practicing conscious breathing can have a profound impact on our lives. Let's explore some effective ways to incorporate this practice into your daily routine.
Morning Breathing Ritual
You can start your day on a positive note by dedicating just a few minutes to conscious breathing.
An easy method of breathing for a morning practice is box breathing. Box breathing is a technique that promotes balance and focus. It involves inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, and holding again, all at the same pace, creating a rhythmic pattern resembling the shape of a box. Here's how to practice box breathing:
Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of four, feeling your lungs fill with air.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth for a count of four, releasing all the air from your lungs.
Hold your breath for a count of four before starting the next inhale.
Repeat this pattern for a few minutes, maintaining a steady rhythm.
This simple practice can help you set a calm and focused tone for the rest of the day, preparing you to navigate challenges with greater centeredness, stability and presence. If you have a particularly challenging day ahead of you, try modifying the box breath to extend the exhalation a bit longer. By extending the exhalation phase you help release tension, calm the nervous system, and reduce stress. This’ll promote a sense of relaxation and help counteract any anxiety or fear associated with the day ahead.
Using Breath to Influence Mood
Your breathing patterns send signals to your nervous system, which controls the regulation of brain chemicals and hormones. When you’re intentional about your breath, you can control your emotional state.
The length of your inhalations and exhalations has a significant impact on your nervous system and emotional state. By consciously modifying the duration of your breath, you can activate specific branches of the autonomic nervous system and influence your body's physiological responses and emotional well-being.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body's "fight or flight" response, which prepares us to deal with perceived threats or stressors. Shorter and quicker inhalations can activate this response, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness. It can be useful to activate this way when you feel you require heightened focus and energy.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body's "rest and digest" response, promoting relaxation, calmness, and restoration. Longer exhalations can activate this response, signaling safety to the body and slowing down your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels. It produces a sense of tranquility, reduced anxiety, and overall well-being.
Breath length is closely linked to our emotional state. When we experience stress, fear, or anger, our breath tends to become shallow, rapid, and focused on inhalation. This pattern reinforces the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, further intensifying negative emotions. Conversely, consciously elongating the exhalation activates the parasympathetic response, calming the mind and body and promoting a more positive emotional state.
The superpower, and new tool, you now have at your disposal is to recognize throughout the day when it might be advantageous to produce a calm state, and when it might be advantageous to energize, and then to adjust your conscious breathing accordingly.
Leading with Mindful Breathing
When we take time to influence our physical and mental state with our breath we are able to show up as a more engaged and present leader. Doing breathwork can enhance our active listening, allowing us to truly hear and understand the perspective of others. Mindful breathing can also improve our decision making abilities.
Prior to important meetings, presentations, or decision-making moments, find a quiet space to practice deep breathing. This can help calm your mind, reduce stress, and enhance your clarity and focus. As a result, you'll approach challenges with a more balanced perspective, leading to better decision-making and inspiring those around you to follow your lead.
Certain aspects of leadership can be especially nerve-racking, such as public speaking, interfacing with investors & executives, giving performance reviews, or conducting layoffs. These are the moments where calming your system, and tapping into your innate potential, are critical. Incorporating specific breathing exercises prior to these events can help calm your nerves, enhance your focus, and improve your overall performance.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is particularly effective for calming the body and mind before intense moments like this. This method engages the diaphragm, allowing for deep inhalations and exhalations, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation response. This exercise helps to reduce anxiety, lower heart rate, and increase oxygenation, creating a state of calm readiness.
Here’s how you can practice diaphragmatic breathing:
Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest.
Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, feeling your abdomen rise as you fill your lungs with air.
Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling your abdomen fall.
Repeat this deep belly breathing for several cycles, focusing on the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body.
A Helpful Breathing Guide: Othership
Sometimes it can be helpful to have a guide as you develop your breathwork practice. I’ve scoured the app store for guided breathwork apps over the years and have found Othership to be the optimal choice. For a small subscription the app offers content that supports all sorts of contexts and situations, whether you’re looking to energize, calm, relax, or inspire yourself. In addition, they offer a weekly "All Around” practice that is an extended-form game-changer. Go download it now (iOS / Android). I promise you’ll be positively transformed.
In the final part of this breathwork series we’ll explore how pairing breathwork with other performance enhancing exercises such as yoga and cold exposure creates a multiplier effect.
Blog cover image credit: Kerry Shaw
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