Urgh. I can’t believe I’m actually writing this, truly.
Heck, I have even joked about all those “you’ve been doing this wrong your whole life” articles saying that soon, very soon, we will learn that we’ve been breathing wrong the entire time:
But guess what? There is actually an art to it. I’m not talking about the general day-to-day inhale-exhale breathing. I think we’re good on that front. Instead, I’m talking about how to breathe when you’re either in pain or feeling a pang of anxiety.
Everyone has heard the old “breathe in slowly … annnnnnnnnd now breathe out” advice, and while it is good, the one I want to share with you is even better.
I came across this breathing exercise on the Ten Percent Happier app. At first I downloaded it as a means of helping me sleep (I’m a terrible sleeper). I didn’t put much value into meditation – never have – primarily because I never thought I had the discipline to quieten down my mind to the point of inertia.
But meditation isn’t about that. More on that another time.
Anyway, back to the breath.
A few weeks ago I got my wisdom teeth taken out. Before bed I dosed myself up on all the painkillers I could and lied down. Only problem was, my jaw was still throbbing.
I couldn’t take any more painkillers – what the heck was I going to do? I scrolled through the app and found this mediation: “Breathing To Release Pain by Sharon Salzberg”.
To be completely honest, I didn’t really think the meditation would ease the pain, only that it might make me a little sleepy and help me nod off. Low and behold, it did both.
It’s all about maximising your exhales and by doing so, you end up activating the parasympathetic nervous system:
In the meditation exercise, Salzberg explains it as such: “It’s the system that’s responsible for rest and digestion — so it’s the opposite of our fight or flight response.”
She continues: “When you breathe slowly and deeply you calm down. Research shows that when we breathe in our heart rate speeds up … and when breathe out it slows down”.
It can be done anywhere and at anytime. It’s also super easy and discreet to do. Here’s how it’s done:
Breathe in for a count of three, and breathe out for a count of six.
Alternatively, you can breathe in for a count of four, and then breathe out for a count of eight.
Following me? Basically however long your inhales take, double that when it comes to your exhales. It’s not as easy as it seems which is actually a good thing, because you end up focusing your attention on your breath rather than anything else.