You need some relaxation so you get a massage only to hear the massage therapist say, "You are forgetting to breathe. Just relax. Take some deep breaths." You try to take some deep breaths, your mind wanders back to your stress at work, you forget about your breath, then think, "Oh shit -- yeah -- breathe." Or maybe you're in yoga class and the instructor reminds the class, "Use your yoga breath." But my yoga attendance is spotty and, as a result, so is my yoga breathing. You see, it turns out that the only power I have historically given to my breath is to just let it keep me alive, when I could have been taking full advantage of its many other superpowers. And let me tell you what those superpowers are.
Last week, a friend introduced me to a mobile app for iPhone by Change Collective that helps people achieve their lifestyle goals through courses based on change science and led by world-renowned experts. So, I signed up for the free one-week "4 Breaths to Lessen Your Stress" course, led by mindfulness expert Cam Aggs. I thought that with some consistent expert guidance with the help of my iPhone, I could adopt a new and better way of breathing that could help me to float through life more centered, calm, and present.
My 5 New Superpowers
1. Being in the Now Through Heightened Senses. On Day 1, Cam's lesson was on how to breathe from the belly and how to use your breath to feel every inch of your body. I had been having a particularly stressful week. As I was driving, I felt my mind wander to the sources of my stress. I remembered to breathe and noticed how every inch of my body felt through those breaths. I really felt the unusually warm Colorado winter sun on the side of my face and the wind in my hair brushing against my forehead. I found myself taking in everything I could see- the mountains in the distance, the beautiful blue sky, and the skyline of Denver. I felt fully present in that moment.
2. Letting go. On Day 2, Cam repeated this mantra, "Release, Relax, Return," to help quiet the mind. I grabbed onto release. While breathing, I focused on releasing some unpleasant thoughts, I felt them float away, which left me feeling present in the moment.
3. Comfort and Serenity in the Seemingly Ordinary. The focus on Day 3 was, "widening the lens and narrowing the focus." Since I had been experiencing frustration, I focused on "widening the lens." During a frustrating phone call, I took Cam's advice and widened my lens to hear the sounds around me. I heard the beeping of a truck reversing, an airplane overhead, and the rattling of my apartment's heater. By listening to the usual sounds of my environment, they somehow seemed novel, leaving me feeling comforted and calm. This allowed me to take the focus away from the inner heat I was feeling, to focus outward, to actually breathe, and to not be reactive.
4. Increased Tolerance for Discomfort. Instead of ignoring uncomfortable feelings, Cam suggested acknowledging these feelings as the "unwelcomed visitor." Throughout a day, we can feel a multitude of difficult emotions in mild to severe degrees, which can prevent us from being fully present in our day-to-day routine. Since frustration had been creeping up inside me due to a stressful situation, instead of ignoring the frustration and letting it fester, I acknowledged this uncomfortable feeling. I said to myself: "Hello frustration, it's not very nice to see you today, but I will welcome you for about 10 minutes today, then I need you to leave so I can get on with my day. Do you want some tea?" So, by acknowledging my feelings of frustration and giving myself permission to feel that way, I actually succeeded in breathing, releasing, and moving on.
5. Increased Self-Compassion. As a self-compassion advocate, I was excited to work on further developing the self-compassion superpower. Self-compassion expert Dr. Kristen Neff says, "Just as we'd have compassion for a good friend who was going through a hard time or felt inadequate in some why, why not for ourselves?" Cam's advice was to think of a mistake you have made and to forgive yourself for it. I had been beating myself up over a work email I had sent the day before that included a spelling error. Would I be mad at a friend and telling her she was "stupid" for not double checking for spelling errors? No. So, why was I punishing myself? Because we have the tendency to be more compassionate to others, than we are to ourselves. I said "sorry" to myself and stopped the negative self-talk. The self-compassion I felt in that moment, healed the damage I had been doing to myself over the last 24 hours.
I try to embody these superpowers, but because they are superpowers their development takes time, practice, and patience. A week later, I do feel a heightened sense of embodied presence. When I feel myself tense up, I remind myself to breathe, then I notice the sounds around me in my environment, and the sensations in my body, and I feel present in the moment. Just remembering to breathe from my belly is the greatest superpower.
Download the Change Collective App for iPhone here.
The author does not have a personal, business, or financial relationship with Change Collective. To find out more about the author, Adrienne Partridge visit: www.adriennepartridge.com