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Breathing In, I Calm My Body. Breathing Out, I Smile

How breathing lowers your stress, refocuses your mind, and helps you to sleep.

“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” —Thich Nhat Hanh

I love these words from Thich Nhat Hanh. They beautifully demonstrate the magic of the one thing you do without thinking that keeps you alive: your breath. Your breath sustains every cell in your body, mind and soul. It makes it possible for you to be here today reading this article. Yet, since you do it without thinking, you forget its power.

If you give it some attention, and really break it down, every inhale and every exhale has a specific purpose. Every time you inhale, you energise your body. Every time you exhale, you relax your body. Every single breath you take taps into your parasympathetic nervous system, affecting how your body and mind feel.

When you take deep, calm breaths, you calm your whole body down. When you take shallow, nervous breaths, you make your body and mind tense up. That's why learning to control your breath will enable you to control your whole body. This, in turn, will even influence your mind.

When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you can change your whole mental state by changing how you breathe. Taking long, calm, deep breaths can lower your heart rate, relax all the muscles in your body, and totally refocus your mind. And, funnily enough, the more relaxed you are, the easier it is to welcome happiness in the natural way.

Hence, today, I encourage you to practice conscious breathing. In order to do that, I’m introducing a specific breathing method by Dr Andrew Weil. He has researched breathing in depth and found a simple 4-7-8 breathing cycle to be incredibly effective when it comes to relaxation.

It goes as follows:

  1. Inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
  2. Hold your breath for 7 counts.
  3. Exhale through relaxed, pressed lips for 8 counts.
  4. Repeat again and again until you start to feel the relaxation.

Have a go at it right now.

Inhale for one… two…three… four… Hold for one… two… three… four… five… six… seven…

And exhale one… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight…

The more you do it, the easier it becomes. In the beginning, if you want, you can start with shorter periods of holding your breath and exhaling if the full 4-7-8 count makes you tense. However, you should definitely work towards holding your breath for the full seven counts and exhaling for the full eight counts, as these are the two key actions that really help to calm your body down.

Hence, to really nail this practice, your homework is this: Take three conscious breathing breaks today in which you practice this 4-7-8 method for three breaths each time.

In the future, whenever you are feeling stressed, anxious, or perhaps even nervous before a performance, use this method to calm yourself down. You can even add it to your pre-sleep ritual as it’s also effective in treating insomnia and improving the quality of your sleep.

Now go—and just breathe.

This is an excerpt from Happiness is Here: A 30-Day Guide to Joy and Fulfilment.

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