What does that mean?
When you focus on your breath and breathe deeply, you are activating your parasympathetic nervous system - the system in your body in charge of slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure - which helps create a feeling of calm.
Most of the time, especially in our North American culture, there is another system in our body that rules the roost more often than not: our fight or flight system (our sympathetic nervous system). This important physiological system directs our body’s rapid and involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. It causes a flash of hormones to boost our body’s alertness by increasing blood flood and sending our heart rate soaring. While we don’t often have to outrun a predator like our ancestors did, our fight or flight response still kicks in big time in our day to day - when we have a close call in traffic; when we receive a bill in the mail that we aren’t sure how we are going to pay; when someone makes us angry and we feel we need to protect ourselves; when we have an impending deadline or too many things on the “to do” list for the day; when someone we love gets sick or hurt. There are any number of reasons that make our pulse race and our adrenaline kick-in. Add caffeine on top of all of this - which causes increased heart rate and blood flow - mimicking the products of our fight or flight response - and without realizing it, we can live in this state for hours, days and weeks at a time without much calm.
Think of a time in which you felt anger, frustration, anxiety or worry. How did your body feel? For this coach, I have learned exactly how my body responds. My body becomes tense, my shoulders and jaw rigid. Chills set in, followed by a headache and dehydration. I stop breathing deeply.
Now think back to a time you felt peaceful. Maybe it was sitting on a beach listening to the waves. Maybe it was watching your kids play or walking and talking with a friend or partner. Perhaps it was while you were on your own in nature, or listening to a favorite song. When you think of that moment, notice your breathing. Has it slowed? Does your body feel more relaxed? Your mind more at ease?
When we stop breathing deeply, our LIFE suffers. So do our relationships, work, and joy. When we pause, focus on breathing deeply and bring attention inward to what we are experiencing - we can see more clearly and respond in a healthier manner.
By learning to practice breathing, and to focus on it in times of turbulence, anxiety, worry, stress, fear etc., we gain the power to respond better, to BE better, to LIVE better. We gain the ability to choose calm over fear, peace over panic, acceptance over judgement, openness over defense. And this is a PRACTICE - as all things are at RUNClub. Just like we must commit to our playwork in order to see improvement in our running, we must commit to practicing our breathing in order to grow and learn. And we will not be perfect at it - any of us. But committing ourselves to the PRACTICE is what changes everything and you are here because you are committed. You already get this. You are practicing and growing and we are so proud of you.
As we head into this new week, let’s continue to practice together, specifically, our breath. A few suggestions for practice:
When we learn to control our breathing, our lives are better. And when we practice together we are better together. Thank you for being open and willing to practice - when we change ourselves for the better, we can change the world for the better. (There’s a lot of “betterness”).