Can Your Day Use Some Breathing Room?
A daily mind-body practice can be as easy as taking a few slow, deep breaths.
Posted Nov 11, 2019
Can you dedicate a few minutes a day to your own mental health? Restorative and preventative self-care for clinicians and other stressed professionals begins with slowing down for a few deep breaths.
With an active career and a full family life, my days have plenty of hustle and bustle. We’re all so busy these days. There are always more things for us to do than we can get done, and it seems we are all in search of more productive days and more restorative nights. I’m always looking for better ways to embrace the chaos and ride through life mindfully.
Here’s an idea worth considering: Can you dedicate a few minutes each day to the purpose of improving or protecting your mental health? Just a few minutes. Whether it’s improved sleep, better motivation, or just a little peace of mind you’re looking for, even a few minutes a day dedicated deliberately to mind-body activities can nurture positive mental health and well-being.
Whether you choose a physical activity like systematic muscle relaxation or aromatherapy, or a mental activity like meditation or self-hypnosis, or a spiritual activity like prayer or contemplation, or a combination activity like yoga that can hit all three targets, you will reap enormous benefits to the protection of your mental health in under ten minutes a day. You could even just sit and breathe for a few minutes (if you’re so busy or so driven that it sounds almost impossible to dedicate five to 10 minutes a day to just breathing, please give this a try—the rewards will be huge).
At my clinical office, I often take a few minutes of breathing room between therapy clients, as a way to reset my attentional focus after the demands of the previous session. This time can be spent in many ways, from chatting with my colleagues to writing notes or eating, but in my experience, these little breaks are most productive when I spend them meditating. I get the most restorative bang for my break buck from just sitting and breathing, or stretching and breathing.
Breathing is something we take for granted both existentially and autonomically. But by using it deliberately, the breath becomes a tool for meditation, relaxation, pain relief, strength, and artistic and spiritual performance. Breath is life, and to "breathe easy" is to be calm, unhurried, and unworried. Breathing techniques have been used in a variety of clinical settings to reduce anxiety and ease suffering. And we can use breathing ourselves to improve our mindful awareness and settle ourselves mentally and physically.
We can do a lot with just a few breaths. Imagine with me for a moment a large soap bubble, shiny and opalescent. As you breathe in, see the bubbles grow a little bigger; and as you breathe out, watch it shrink a little smaller. Close your eyes and imagine the bubble clearly in your mind’s eye, gently growing and shrinking in time with your breathing. Breathe in and watch the bubble slowly grow. Breathe out and imagine the bubble slowly shrink. Grow and shrink the bubble with your breath a few times. Take your time.
When you finish practicing this visualization technique, you may have calmed your autonomic nervous system and reduced your blood pressure and heart rate. This simple exercise is one of a near-infinite array of mind-body techniques that unite imagination and physiology in the interest of reduced stress responsivity.
These techniques work immediately, but their benefits also accrue over time. The more you use them, the bigger their effect. The challenge, of course, is in doing some little mind-body exercise every day. That can seem daunting, but it’s worth it! After only a few days in a row of practicing any mind-body technique, you can expect a perceptible increase in your ability to maintain a conscious experience of focused relaxation.
Daily mind-body practice is a commitment to our long-term wellness. After all, the entire concept of a preventative practice is that it isn’t just for rescuing us from a crisis but to protect the wellness we have and want to maintain.
So whether you’re thriving, you’re fine, or not so much, a brief but repeated practice of a gentle mind-body technique can help you achieve a sense of greater comfort and clarity. Breathe in, breathe out.
We can all afford to make a little breathing room for our mental well-being!