As a culture we are becoming so “busy” and somehow our level of busyness has become ingrained in how we value ourselves. We ask our friends, “Are you keeping busy?”, as if the world would end if we had nothing to “do”. We rush around in a whirlwind of “stuff” that we “must do”, although we haven’t stopped for long enough to ask ourselves why we are doing it all in the first place, as we are just far too busy for that and we haven’t got time. It’s as if the seasons never change, but we all know that they do and we all know that in the winter we feel more tired, we need more rest, yet in the busy 9 to 5 culture we must function as if there is one season… a perpetual Springtime.
We are expected by our employers to carry on at the same pace 365 days a year, minus holidays of approximately 4 weeks if we are lucky, which we may spend monging out in complete exhaustion on a nice beach somewhere (again if we are lucky), over feeding ourselves and drinking too much to drown out the voice in our heads which is saying, “How dare you sit down for 5 mins, you’ve got this to do and that to do!”. This puts even more stress on our already struggling bodies. Or we may do the opposite and launch ourselves into a holiday of extreme sports, determined to squeeze out every last piece of excitement and adrenaline from our bodies until we literally crash and burn! Or we may be the sort that uses our holidays to catch up on DIY or for weeding and pruning the garden. And we have only discussed the body here…where is the mind in all this? Likely it is worrying about all the things we need to “do”. Rarely is it on the job, rarely is it truly present.
In my experience, our bodies will usually find a way to make us stop, even if it is forced by an “accident” or injury. Whether it be on the slopes or bending down in the garden, doing “more” in a disassociated state of already near exhaustion is never pretty. In this state we are likely to end up with broken bones, bruises and sprains, pulled backs and even if we do actually choose to stop of our own accord, as we lay in the warmth on a white sandy beach, or we take the day off to chill out and catch up on some TV, our bodies say, “Woo Hoo! A chance to rebalance!” and we may end up with flu-like symptoms, cold and headaches as we go through what is known in holistic therapy as a healing crisis.
So…how can we stop this rather depressing, what is for many of us, reality?
We can start by simply changing our pace and find our own natural rhythm.
To do this we may need a little discipline, commitment and to really Love and value ourselves. As we become aware of the pace at which we remain centred and at which we can maintain a diaphragmatic (belly) breath, we can actually “go” for longer and we are far more productive. When we function from a centred and present place we place our bodies under less stress. When we find our natural rhythm, we need less rest but when we do rest it becomes peaceful and enjoyable oppose to necessary.
Thoracic breathing (chest) takes us into flight or fight mode, which is a completely unnecessary state to be in unless one is being chased by a bear or a psychopath, or one is trying to win the Olympic 100 metre sprint! Prolonged, unnecessary thoracic breathing causes anxiety and panic attacks. It puts extreme pressure on the chest, lungs, heart and surrounding muscles and will affect the tension in the neck and shoulders as everything is literally pulled up in anticipation to fight or flee. For many of us, this activated and highly strung state has become our default, but only because we have programmed ourselves that way.
Noticing when we are “up there” with the breath and consciously choosing to lower the breath is the first step to managing our pace. We need to reprogram our default state back to neutral so that when there is a real threat we really have got a fighting chance.
We benefit most when we get clear about who we really are and what it is we really want out of our day at the beginning of the day. Taking a few moments to set our pace and find our centre, align our inner compass to our true values and goals helps us get clear with our vision and see what is really important to us. We can then choose our path instead of stumbling upon it or sprinting off into another random day, not really knowing where we are going or functioning on auto-pilot. In this centred place we can find the courage to let go of activities that do not support us and that eat away at our time and energy. We can move at a steady pace that does not tire us for we have lit the flame of purpose and passion that now fuels our actions and all we need to do now is maintain this flame.
We do this through awareness and mindfulness and it takes practice. We may need to relight our flames many times through the course of a day while we learn to manage our pace and hold our vision steady.
There is much confusion about “Being” and “doing”. Many think that “to Be” is the opposite to “to do”. True “Being” to me means Being present in whatever one is doing. It is not about not doing but about learning to “do” whilst “Being”. You are the “Being”…are you embodying your “doing” or are you running on autopilot?
Who are you? Where are you? Are you running around in someone else’s shoes, trying to fill someone else’s boots? If so, it’s no wonder you are tired.
Here are some tips on how to check your breathing so you can actively set your pace:
Stage 1: Become aware of your breath.
Sit in an upright position or lie on your back. Bring your awareness to your breath. Breathing through the nostrils become aware of the coolness of the breath as you inhale and follow the breath down the back of the throat into the lungs. Notice the expansion of the lungs, observe whether the chest rises or the belly rises and falls as you inhale and exhale. Notice the length of the inhale and exhale. Are they even or is one longer than the other? Notice whether they are smooth or whether you gasp the breath in or sigh the breath out. Now notice how the breath is warm as you exhale through the nostrils.
If your upper chest/rib cage is expanding forward and outward as you inhale you are not breathing efficiently and only using a small section of your lungs. This is thoracic or chest breathing.
Stage 2: Retrain your breath to abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing – The most efficient way to breathe.
It is best to begin lying down on your back and once you have mastered this breathing lying down try sitting, then standing, then in action. The idea is that eventually you will breath like this naturally, although it may take a little time and conscious awareness for you to retrain your new healthy breathing pattern. You are going to bring the breath into the upper belly, the area known as the solar plexus or the v at the bottom of your ribcage. Place your left hand on your chest and your right hand on the upper belly. A good guide will be that your little finger is resting just above the belly button. As you inhale, drop the breath into the upper belly so the left hand and chest remain fairly still but the belly rises and right hand moves upwards. As you exhale the belly relaxes and falls. Try to cultivate a deep, even breath, using breath awareness as in stage 1.
When lying, the lower belly (beneath the belly button) will gently rise and fall with the upper belly, although this is not to be exaggerated. When upright, the lower belly gently draws in on the inhale and relaxes on the exhale to help support good posture, the lumbar spine and to gain maximum energy whilst in motion. All that said, I have found for people who have difficulty in doing this initially, that it is beneficial for them to over exaggerate the inflation of the whole abdomen until they get the feel of it. It can also be helpful to place something heavier like a yoga brick or book on the upper belly to create a deeper awareness of the diaphragm.
Ideally practice breathing this way with breath awareness for 5 – 10 minutes everyday and your body will soon realise the benefits. Eventually breathing this way will become natural. If 5 – 10 minutes seems too long a time to practice, even 1 minute a day will make a difference and is better than not at all. Diaphragmatic breathing ensures the lower lobes of the lungs are being utilised. As well as massaging the internal organs it increases oxygenation of the blood and circulation, bringing a constant and fresh supply of energy to the body. Correct breathing and good posture can immediately improve the state of physical and mental well-being.
Check your breathing throughout the day. Notice what triggers you into thoracic breathing and as your awareness expands you can choose to “reset”. Remind yourself that the few minutes that you are taking out to reset yourself may gain you ten times as much productive time later in the day. Notice that thoracic breathing encourages a rushed pace and diaphragmatic breathing encourages and steady, even pace.
A little ditty for you to finish:
May you all find your natural rhythm
May you all find a steady and even pace
May you remember who you really are
And remember that this life is not a race!