Sighing, panting, gasping...yawning.
Our breathing changes as our thoughts, feelings and behaviour change. As we become worried, excited, elated, depressed or aroused, our breathing becomes shorter, jerkier, longer, deeper, shallower or smoother. What if the reverse were true? What if our breathing could change our thoughts, feelings and behaviour? What if breathing the right way meant more personal excellence and less anxiety and anger?
Anxiety shows up in many ways from the more well-known symptoms like tight chest and throat, sweating, increased heart rate, nausea to the less obvious such as memory loss, insomnia and many others. It’s part of life, and yet for some of us it has too much of a hold.
The Kama Sutra of breathing…. backed by neuroscience!
I have taken this material from Dr Alan Watkins’ Ted Talk on You Tube called ‘How To Be Brilliant Every Day’. It's important to view part 1 and 2. I’ve used it with clients who have found it very helpful. Some are sceptical about breathing exercises to reduce anxiety. They say that in the middle of an anxiety attack the last thing they remember is breathing techniques. Others say that the usual breathing exercises prescribed make them more anxious because they worry about getting the technique right. Some others have tried breathing techniques and doubt they work as they have simply not found them effective. So why not give it a twirl? What have you go to lose?
My Lips Don’t lie
Firstly, Dr Watkins explains the neuroscience behind the technique which may help convince you. Secondly, the technique is easy to follow and you can download a free App in order to do so. Lastly, breathing exercises are most effective when done regularly, even if only 3 minutes three times per day. In this way, the baseline level of anxiety is kept lower which means an anxiety attack is less likely. The exercises thus act in a preventative way. So, it’s not really fair to write off breathing until you have tried doing it regularly.
Coherent breathing is useful not just to reduce anxiety but to increase any type of performance be it sports, business, academic performance, relationship, sexual. He explains that It’s not our thoughts that affect our feelings but our feelings that affect our thoughts. That’s why, when someone tells you not to worry when you are anxious, it’s like trying to use a garden hose to put out a raging forest fire.
Wild thing, you make my heart sing
Let’s imagine we have different layers. The bottom layer is our physiology. This is our heart beating, breathing, gut peristalsis etc. It is experienced as a stream of data. Next level up are our emotions. E-motions are energy in motion, the energy of our physiology. Next layer up are our feelings. Feelings are the awareness in our minds of our emotions. Lastly come our thoughts.
When our physiology is out of whack we lobotomise ourselves. When our reptilian brain senses a threat, it goes into fight, flight or freeze. This is great when there is a real threat but the trouble is, our body gets it wrong. If we’ve suffered some kind of trauma in the past, our body can react as if we are in threat and go into a full-blown anxiety attack when we are tucked up in bed watching Netflix with a cup of cocoa.
In order to achieve brilliance every day we need to be able to tune in to the emotions and control them.
How do we do that?
Keep my heart rate coherent, baby.
The more the distance between each heart beat varies over time, the more incoherent our thinking and behaviour becomes. We start to produce more cortisol which is associated with anxiety, anger and frustration.
Steady on…and breathe
We need to aim for stable variance by taking rhythmic breaths. Within a minute our frontal lobes start working better and we become more perceptive, insightful and good at problem solving. This is where coherent differs from yoga or other breathing exercises which may focus on deep breathing or belly breathing. Here it doesn’t matter how deep or large the breathing. It doesn’t even matter what the ratio is. All that matters is that you breathe:
· focusing on your heart
It doesn’t matter how fast you are doing it, so long as you are doing it rhythmically. Dr Watkins says the reason to focus on the heart area is that not only does it get you out of your head but the heart is also the locus of passion, excitement and motivation so these get promoted.
That’s it, you've got it! ;)
If you want an app to help with it then go to: