Exercise 1 – Mindful Breathing

Mindfulness. The act of quieting the “fight or flight” amygdala response. It’s an important technique for every one of us to learn. Because while that amygdala alarm was quite useful when a polar bear was about to attack our spear-toting ancestors, in modern times that amygdala alarm can go off every five minutes between tweets, cell phone messages, and other signals. These disruptions to our focus and energy levels cause a cascade of health and mental challenges.

This mindfulness exercise helps to ease the amygdala and bring the brain’s focus back to the parasympathetic nervous system. This system regulates a healthy blood pressure, keeps the heart rate running smoothly, and supports calm, rational thought. This is the zone where quarterbacks effortlessly float the ball into the receiver’s hand. Where a doctor perfectly guides a surgery to its optimal conclusion.

It’s all about the breath.

Focus on the Breath

A key benefit of a breath-based mindfulness exercise is that we always have our breath with us. No matter where we are, or what we are doing, we are generally breathing. As strange as it might seem, studies find that the way in which we breathe has a direct impact on how our brain chooses between the fight-or-flight response or the calm-support response. Our bodies are just that intertwined. If we breathe quickly and sharply, our body assumes something dangerous is going on and ramps up the stress hormones to help us survive. If we breathe slowly and calmly, our body assumes we are in a place of safety and sends out the signals to use this time to think and plan.

We will use this automatic reaction to our advantage.

Pause for just a moment. Breathe in long, deep, and full. Fill your upper chest, mid chest, and lower abdomen with oxygen. Let your belly fluff out. Pause. Then press the air out, out, out, expelling the carbon dioxide.

Breathe in again, longer, deeper, allowing your entire chest cavity to fill with oxygen. Oxygen is flowing deep into your lungs, into all those millions of little alveoli where it infuses your blood. This is the powerhouse of your body. It is the raw energy every cell needs to function. Then those same alveoli are allowing your body’s waste carbon dioxide to flow out of you, out, out, cleansing you.

The act of breathing deeply brings your body the oxygen it needs to think and act with focused energy. The same act of breathing deeply also activates systems in your body to calm stress. To move into a mode of calm, attentive focus. Even just five long, deep breaths can get the body to shift its focus.

Think of ways to integrate this into your regular daily routine. The more you understand how your body acts and reacts, the more you can use techniques like this to guide your body’s state. You can optimize your health to support clear thinking, calm attention, and optimal health.