Breathe in. Breathe out.
Stop reading, close your eyes, and breathe. In. Out. In. (This page will still be here when you open them again, I promise.)
Are you breathing fast or slow right now? Did you hear or feel your heart when you were listening to your breath?
Many of us are aware of how changing what food and drink we put into our body changes the way we feel.
Yogis know the healing, calming, reviving, and focussing power that simple awareness and manipulation of your breath can bring. Here is a summary of some simple techniques that can make a profound difference in your health, even when you’re stuck in a cubicle lifestyle.
Feel free to share these with your friends. If you have questions, please feel free to write to me or ask me in the comments!
Breath Awareness: Pay Attention… 1
Calming: Square Breath……. 2
Heating and Reviving: Skull-Cleansing Breath…….. 3
Cooling: U-shaped Tongue Breath… 4
Sustaining Physical Effort: Ujjayi Breath… 5
Breath Awareness: Pay Attention
Many of the world’s ills could be solved if everyone would simply be aware of what they were doing.
Well, it’s not our job to control others. But we can choose to do this each ourselves. Self awareness improves our professional and personal lives, and it can make a profound difference to our health. The way that you breathe affects your heart rate, your muscles, your brain… even your digestion.
So. Please close your eyes (after you read what I’d like you to do while they’re closed).
Why will I be asking you to close your eyes so much during this paper? Closing your eyes removes visual distractions, which turns off some of your brain’s work, freeing it up to focus better on the matter at hand.
How to Do It
With your eyes closed, please breathe in and out several times. Observe. Then come back and read the next part.
If you’re feeling stressed at the moment, your breath may be quite fast. If you are fit and relaxed, it might be quite slow.
Calming: Square Breath
When your mind is scattered, or if you are under stress, your breath may be quick or erratic when you first tune in to pay attention to it.
The way to feel calmer and more focussed is to slow down your breath. Some times, that is the simplest thing in the world. At other times, it takes more work. But it’s almost always effective. When something that you’re working on is not going well, taking a few minutes do to the following exercise can ramp up your focus and productivity. Definitely worth it.
How to Do It
- Begin, as with all breath exercises, by closing your eyes and observing your breath.
- Now decide to start controlling your breath.
- Breathe in for one count. Hold it for one count. Breathe out for one count. Hold your breath out for one count.
- Breathe in for two counts. Hold your breath in for two counts. Breathe out for two counts. Hold your breath out for two counts.
- Continue, counting: 3 in, 3 hold, 3 out, 3 hold, 4 in, 4 hold, 4 out, 4 hold, and so on, up to 9 or 10 eventually. (Stop when you become light-headed — the object here is not to pass out!)
This exercise could be started with four counts each in, hold, out, hold, and you could stay at 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 5, 6 counts for several minutes. As you calm and slow your breath, you will notice your heart rate starting to slow down as well. Focussing intensely on your breath will also empty your mind — if you find that there’s still too much space for thinking in this exercise (because you’re that agitated!) then try the next exercise, which is more physically exhausting.
After I taught some breathwork to the managers, this breath is the one that people came back and told me later that helped them the most. You can do it in the car, while waiting in line, or at your desk.
Heating and Reviving: Skull-Cleansing Breath
One of the most remarkable magic breaths is called “skull-cleansing” breath. It really blows the cobwebs out. You can also use this breath to increase your body temperature if you are in a cold situation that you can’t get out of (winter in Canada, anyone? Or kayak expedition on the ocean?).
How to Do It
- Sit or stand with a straight spine and a hand on your belly (More intense variation, after you’ve learned it sitting: Do this exercise with a strong straight back in high pushup position (aka plank pose).) Most cubicles have room fo you to do plank pose, in case you haven’t noticed that yet.
- Blow breath forcefully out your nose. The hand on your belly should move in as you snap your abdominal muscles inward with each forceful outward breath.
- You do not need to think about your inward breath. It will happen naturally. Keep breathing out forcefully, through your nose, as long as you can (this becomes pretty exhausting pretty quickly.) Ideally, do a 60-second set, then take a break, and do another 60-second set, and another. If you can’t last 60 seconds, then do it for 20 or 30 seconds each set and build up.
In terms of stress relief, please write to me and have me buy you a beer if you can’t stop your brain whirling by enough sets of this exercise. Exhaustion is a sure-fire remedy for a churning head. And this one will exhaust you as much as running stairs, without even leaving your desk chair.
Cooling: U-shaped Tongue Breath
I actually used this method one time in Arizona when I had heatstroke, to cool my body and stay focussed (at the time I felt that I had to keep driving, because there was no cool place to stop — not the best health and safety moment but I made it through).
How to Do It
- Make your mouth into an “o” shape and curl your tongue (if you can).
- Breathe in through your nose and blow long breaths out through your mouth. Breathing in through your nose and fast out through an o-shaped mouth and u-shaped tongue actually gives your body physiological cooling signals.
Sustaining Physical Effort: Ujjayi Breath
This is ujjayi, the noisy breath that you hear people doing in yoga class. Once you get the hang of it, it actually does help firm up your muscles and your resolve to get through tough physical exertion. The noise is partly to help you focus and, again, clear your mind. Somehow the physical reality of doing this breath works on your physical strength. Don’t ask me how, but it works. Magic.
How to Do It
- Breathe in through your nose.
- Breathe out through your nose, making a Darth Vader sound at the back of your throat.
- If you would like more details on exactly how to do this breath, Google it. You’ll get plenty of videos and long explanations of exactly how. It can be tricky to get the hang of at first, so watch a few different teachers until one makes sense to you!
Unlike the other breathing exercises in this article, which I encourage you to use in your cubicle to calm, revive, warm, and/or cool you, please don’t do ujjayi breath while other people are trying to focus on work! It can be quite distracting. 🙂