“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
One of things we may often take for granted in life is the simple act of breathing.
Sure, we know that without it we would not live.
But it is one of those things that happen unconsciously, automatically as we go about our lives. That’s all that’s to it.
This is at least what I used to think. But I have in the past 8 years learned that by consciously breathing when needed I can in the long run reap big, big benefits from extremely little effort.
It has become one of my favorite and most often used habits.
In this article I would like to share 7 ways that I have learned to use my breathing to improve my own life.
But first, here are the steps I usually use to breathe more consciously and to make a positive change within:
- Slow down and stop. I slow down my movements. Or the pace I am walking in if I am not on a chair or in bed. Then I stop.
- Breathe. While sitting down or standing still I focus on taking deep breaths with my belly (not with my chest). I breathe in and out through my nose. The breaths I take are not super-deep. But about two or three times as deep as my regular breaths.
- Focus. While breathing in and out I – in most of the situations mentioned below – focus on just that. Nothing else. The rest of the world melts away. I only feel and focus on the air going in and out.
1. Find or regain focus when working.
I am sometimes unfocused when I start my day. Or I get confused or my focus starts lacking as the day progresses. I sometimes start getting lost in busy work.
When I become aware of being or moving into such a situation I follow the steps listed above and I focus on just my breaths going in and out for 1 minute.
By doing so my mind becomes clearer before I follow up with asking myself a question like:
What is the most important thing I can do right now?
Then I take a small step forward based on the answer I get.
2. Reduce nervousness in social situations.
I used to get pretty nervous before many meetings in the past. When I had a date I usually got really nervous. One the things that really helped me to turn that around and to have more fun and success in social situations was to use conscious breathing.
Here is exactly how I did it before a date in case you want to try the same thing:
A couple of minutes before I was to meet my date I slowed down. I stopped. I stood still or sat down on a bench for about 2 minutes. I focused on just my breathing.
By doing so I was able to calm down both my body and mind and return to the healthier present moment. Instead of being lost in destructive thoughts about possibly being rejected or looking like a fool.
3. Calm down before you say something you don’t really mean.
When someone criticizes you or makes a verbal attack then it is sometimes so tempting to quickly shoot something back. To maybe say something even worse. To escalate the situation into something really negative.
So instead, when someone says something like that, just take a few belly breaths and focus only on them. Just 3 or 5 deep breaths help a lot. Then reply to what was said or to the email or message you got.
It will save you a lot of trouble and anger. And it will help you to take the high road in many situations and give a level-headed answer or to simply let go of what was said and move on.
4. Truly listen and be here.
It is so easy to get lost in your own head and thoughts during a conversation.
I have found that if I before a conversation focus on my breathing for 1 minute and then follow that up with just focusing on what is going on around me with all my senses – the smells, the sounds, what I can feel on my skin, what I can see – for 1 minute then I become a lot more outwardly focused and alert in the conversation.
And so I listen better.
5. Get back to sleep if you wake up too early.
Like most people, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night. Usually I am able to get back to sleep within a couple of minutes. But sometimes my mind becomes active right away and starts thinking about ideas for new blog posts. Or an issue I am dealing with. Or it starts planning for the future.
This can keep me awake for quite some time.
The best thing I have found for getting my mind to let go of the thoughts bouncing around in there is to focus on my breathing. Because when I focus on just the air going in and out my mind cannot focus on the thoughts on the same time. And so my mind becomes empty. It and my body calms down. And after a minute or a few of them I drift off to sleep again.
This simple thing has helped to get my well-needed sleep during quite a few nights over the past 3 or 4 years.
6. Appreciate the little things around you in life.
During the summer and fall I spend some time almost every week with hunting mushrooms in the woods where we live.
I do it because I love the treasure hunt of looking for the mushrooms. I do it because I greatly enjoy cooking and eating them. And I do it because it relaxes and recharges me.
When I am out there among the tall trees I usually pause from time to time. I stand still, look around and take a few deep breaths. This helps me to clear my mind of distractions and to fully enjoy the nature around me.
I highly recommend taking small breathing-breaks throughout the day. Just take a few deep breaths before eating a meal to focus and to appreciate it more.
Or after you have taken the breaths ask yourself: what are 3 things I can be grateful for in my life today?
These breaks will help you to live your life more consciously, fully and recharge you with a boost of positive energy.
7. Let go of overwhelming situations in life.
Life can simply get overwhelming sometimes. Maybe there is too much happening at work and/or in your personal life and you just feel overwhelmed and want to escape.
Breathing can be very useful in these tough situations too.
It can calm you down and let you shed the mental weight of all those jumbled up thoughts and emotions. It can help you find focus again. It can help you to ground yourself and to find a healthier perspective as your mind becomes clearer and more level-headed again.
So if you feel overwhelmed during your day breathe deeply and focus only on that for a minute or two. It is in my experience usually a more helpful choice than escaping onto Facebook and getting lost in procrastination.