Guest blog from Nancy Chadwick Burke. Original can be found here.
“Breathe, just breathe, c’mon now, here we go. Breeeaathe.”
How many times have I told myself this or others have had to tell me? I’m driving in the car, seatbelt fastened, both hands on the wheel, my mind’s dialogue spins fast, my breath is short and shallow. Whether on my way to the next agenda item, feeling anxious or just nerves have plagued my mind and body, I could use some deep breathing.
Maybe you are a Type-A person, competitive, ambitious, impatient, aggressive, running through the day’s busy-ness, all the while unaware of your shallow breathing. The tension alone from these tendencies sends signals for increased shallow breathing. Actually, you were probably unaware of anything internal, just relying on auto-pilot. I find the least considered “to-do” is the most important – breathing.
The typical person only uses around twenty percent of their lung capacity. Diminished lung capacity is an easy thing to achieve, something we don’t even think about. But what would happen if we used our entire capacity for breathing? What if we paid attention to our inhales, making adjustments to breathe more deep? This concerted effort results in more awareness and being more conscious of our bodies.
Healthy breathing affects all our body’s systems: immune, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, digestive – to name a few – calming and improving functionality. The mental and emotional side to healthy breathing cannot be left out, lowering stress levels, enhancing sense of self and awareness.
I find there is a little “Type-A” personality in all of us. According to Melissa Heisler, author of “From Type A to Type Me,” Type A’s hyperawareness is usually focused outside themselves; they are aware of everything external. I believe if you don’t practice healthy breathing, you won’t be aware of your internal system. Your mind and body will lack a connection. If you are disconnected how can you focus on your life path and the experiences you have?
Melissa says a foundational tool to help you become more aware is what she calls the State of Gray. This idea resembles other terms, “being in the now,” “doing nothing,” “refusing to obey the voice of knowledge,” “mindfulness. This State of Gray, a peaceful space between black and white thinking, has three components: turn off, release and surrender.
First, turn off all outside stimulation. Then release, consciously, tension, pain, tightness in your body. Allow yourself to be comfortable. Rest. Release thoughts. Lastly, surrender.
I understand this sounds easier said than done and it is a challenge. But there is one thing lacking here that you must do to get you through the steps, breathe, consciously and deeply. That will get you to what Melissa says plainly, “Just be,” in calm and quiet.
When are we not doing something – talking, thinking, imagining, listening, eating, moving? Meditation, yoga, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, or even prayer are some of the ways we can achieve State of Gray, according to Melissa. I can only suggest what worked for me, an analysis-paralysis over-thinker.
I have always been a shallow breather, an admittance I never realized until I got older and switched my exercise regimen from high aerobic output to more body focused with yoga, strength training, flexibility and core development. My unhealthy breathing was holding me back. Conscious and deep breathing enabled me to achieve the benefits from these practices taking the participation of my entire core capacity, lungs, belly and ribs.
I learned to apply this to many of my tasks throughout the day. As my memoir manuscript, “Under the Birch Tree,” continues construction, conscious breathing has gotten me through many writing sessions. In my quest to break through untimely writer’s block, my 10 minutes consists of stepping away from my computer, breathing deeply and releasing anxiety and the pressure to get it all done. This time-out enables me to refocus, think more clearly and be more productive and efficient at my task at hand.
Effective breathing takes practice, like yoga, where with each repetitive doing gets you that much better at it. So now what? What also can I do with this valuable tool called breathing? Find your State of Gray or allow it to find you. Conscious breathing and State of Gray go hand-in-hand. I couldn’t do one without the other. In a designated secluded, quiet spot, I allow myself to turn off all outside stimulation, focusing on my “to-do.” And then I become aware of my breath. I focus on the breath and relax, slowing down. I get comfortable, calming myself. And then the release, letting go tension, tightness and any pain held within my body. With my release, my breathing automatically turns deeper, filling my belly, expanding my lungs to the sides and back. After several breaths, I can’t help but to surrender and just be. I agree with Melissa. The state IS just like floating. The breathing is conscious and in turn allows me to be supported.
This mind – body connection is the most powerful thing we have. You don’t have to have Type-A tendencies to practice healthy breathing. You just need to practice healthy breathing, consciously.
Now I don’t need to have someone look at me and tell me to breathe, knowing the air surge will quell nerves, soften my anxiety or help me to focus. Anyone can start conscious breathing, even while driving in the car.
“Now that I am trying to change, I don’t like who I am.”
At some point, many of my clients say this or something similar. When they finally see a new way to be, but are not yet capable of acting that way, they begin to attack themselves.
“I am a horrible person.”
“Being this way is bad.”
“It is wrong to act like this.”
These thoughts are natural, but not helpful. There are some very simple ways to begin accepting who you are so you can move into who you want to be.
See the Truth
When I work with individuals who are trying to lose weight, the first step is for them to truly see and accept where they are. Yes, they may have twenty more pounds than they would like, but that is the truth of the situation. If they constantly think they should be different than they really are, no changes can be made. We must first accept where we are before we can make changes.
We are often our worst critics. We will tell ourselves how bad, wrong, or horrible we are. This is also not seeing the truth. When we belittle ourselves we are judging ourselves based on our perception of right and wrong. Judging also makes us stuck. We feel a powerless victim to the label. Instead, reframe your actions as being helpful or unhelpful. This frees you to make changes.
Love Your Shadow
We all have positive and negative aspects. Sometimes a positive, like being a Type A, can become a negative when it is out of control. See yourself as a whole person with shadow and light. One cannot exist without the other. Know your shadow and work to manage it instead of sentencing yourself to unhappiness because you have a shadow.
Celebrate Your Progress
Take a moment and see where you started. Yes, you may not be where you want to be, but how far have you come? Celebrate what you have already accomplished and be grateful for your progress knowing that there is more and better to come.
My husband and I love the Baja Peninsula visiting it frequently over the past few years. On September 14, 2014, Hurricane Odile hit. With no phone or internet service it was days and in one case a week before we heard from our friends who live there. Without communication, I became obsessed with any reports I could get from the area. I looked at photos of damage. I worried about the lack of food, water, and electricity. I concerned over my friends safety as desperation looting began. That week I was also hit with a massive cold.
You see worry was holding me down. Every time I wondered where they were and if they were safe, it hit my immune system. Every time I looked at a report with the damage, it brought down my positive attitude. The result is my feeling poorly physically and mentally. The entire week I was out of sorts and unproductive. And most importantly, this attitude did nothing for my friends.
A better choice in this situation would have been every time the hurricane and my friends came to mind, to take a moment and surround them with love and protection. Instead of thoughts of what if and worst case scenario, I could have imagined them safe. These thoughts would have kept me centered and in a space to look for ways to support my friends as well as maintaining my normal weekly necessities. The positive energy being sent through the airwaves would have also positively affected all those in the wake of the hurricane.
As you go through your day, where are you experiencing worry? Instead of dragging yourself into the negative, what happens if you stop to take a moment to surround all those involved with love and hope? How does it change your mood? How does it change your outlook? How does it change how you address and handle the difficult situation?
If you would like to help those recovering from the hurricane, here are a few sources.
Recently a client admitted to falling back into an old undesirable habit. Ashley had once again become a tyrant at home. She was obsessed with the cleanliness of her house. She worried about getting things done on time. She stopped interacting with her family. The only time she spoke to them was when she was barking out an order or reprimanding when something was not done correctly or on time. Ashley was obsessed with her to-do list. She was frantic to complete each item. She was becoming very stressed by all she wanted to complete.
The first thing I told her was, “Congratulations.” The fact that she caught herself falling into this behavior was wonderful progress in her development. In the past, she would have acted this way and not consciously realized she was bringing the stress on herself and her family. Becoming aware of our behavior is the powerful first step to changing the undesirable behavior.
Then we dove into the “why.” Why did she take this behavior back on? Why did she think she had to act this way?
We talked about what was happening in her life. Unexpected expenses were affecting their finances. An accident made her question her ability as a mother, and therefore her self-worth. As we explored the stressors in her life, we discovered that focusing on her to-do list made her feel in control and safe. She wanted control over her life. She didn’t have control over the unexpected expenses or accident, so she sought control over tasks. Ashley wanted to protect herself from pain, uncertainty, and lack. She thought she could use “doing” to protect herself and gain control.
As we talked, Ashley realized that her attempts to control through “doing” did not make her feel safe. Instead, she felt more stressed through the overwhelming list of to-do’s. With this realization, she was then able to let go of the pressure of her list. She was able to rejoin her family by focusing on the experience of life instead of tasks. As Ashley released her “doing,” she also bravely allowed herself to feel the fear, pain, and anxiety of her current issues. Instead of blocking these feelings through tasks, she faced them. And in facing them, she felt a sense of calm security.
When do you reach for your to-do list? What are you trying to hide from? What are you trying to protect yourself from? Is it really working? Are you ready to be brave enough to face your fears?
In our fast-paced, multi-tasking, on-the-go-deadline driven work, we are often caught up in the act of “Doing.” We move from task to task on our to-do list. We rush from work to class to home. We keep pushing ourselves to do more and do it better.
Do you have hobbies? Do you have passions? Or have you lost who you are to all of the things you are doing outside of yourself?
Do you sleep well at night?
Are you fit? Do you feel good in your body?
What is your blood pressure?
How is your digestion?
Do you have close loving relationships, or are those around you cowering after you gave your last order?
Do you feel a slave to the needs of those around you?
Do you celebrate your successes, or do you jump into the next task?
Do you feel overwhelmed by all you need to do?
Do you have work-life balance?
When was the last time you laughed?
How often do you smile during the day?
How much do you enjoy what you are doing?
How much of your day, life, and relationships do you miss because you are focused on the project at hand?
How much of your life have you forgotten in a blur of completed tasks?
Are you truly living your life or are you a machine frantically completing one task after another?
Do you feel stuck, constricted, strained, and restricted?
What is your personal cost of doing too much?
Journal about what you are losing in the desire to “have it all.” In your desire to control situations, how are you actually out of control? Are you ready to give up the frantic lifestyle and find peace in just being? What is scary about releasing all the to-do’s on your list?