Breathing well is a skill. The average person takes over 23,000 breaths per day! For many office workers, most of those breaths are not serving your body or mind nearly as well as they could be. Professional singers, athletes, and yogis know the power behind the breath, and we here at Unfold Yoga + Wellness believe that office workers should take full advantage of this powerful tool, too. When you breathe better, you work better. Have you ever experienced stress at work? Maybe you’re racing against a deadline, anxious about a presentation, or worried about a disagreement you’re having with a peer. We all experience stress on a daily basis. Breathing well helps you to become better at handling stress, which increases your ability to do great work. Here’s how…
Everyone has a “breathing muscle”, also known as the diaphragm, located near the bottom of the rib cage. When the diaphragm contracts, it brings air into your body. When it relaxes, it moves air out of your body. Diaphragmatic breathing not only brings more oxygen into your system, but it also activates your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system helps you to relax and stay calm. As a result, you become more mindful of how you interact with both yourself and others. Mindfulness creates awareness; and awareness provides an opportunity to react to stress in a healthy, constructive way.
Try it out with these three simple steps:
Step 1: AwarenessBecoming aware of your breathing patterns is subtle work. To start, try setting a timer for two minutes. Close your eyes and begin to pay attention to your breath. Don’t try to change it or judge it in any way. Just practice feeling it move in and out of your body. What is the quality of your breath? Is it smooth? Choppy? Short? Fast? Shallow? Labored? Are the inhales and the exhales of equal length? Are you breathing out of your nose or your mouth? There is no right or wrong answer; your only job is to become aware of how you breathe. Awareness is the first step to creating change.
Step 2: Movement
Most of us tend to take short, shallow breaths into the chest. In order to breathe with your diaphragm, you need to feel the breath move into your lower belly. Try placing your hand on the lower part of your abdomen. As you inhale, feel your belly gently expand. As you exhale, feel your belly gently contract. There is no need to push the belly out, or force the air in any way. Over time, you will feel a smooth, rhythmic quality of the breath as it moves in and out of your lower belly.
Step 3: Practice
Your entire life is an opportunity to practice breathing well. The good news is that you HAVE to breathe in order to stay alive, it’s free, and nobody needs to know that you’re practicing! Take a two minute mindful breathing break when you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, when you’re walking your dog, or when you’re doing the dishes. Practice breathing before a big presentation to help you stay calm, after a stressful discussion to relax your nervous system, or while waiting for the train instead of looking at your phone.
About the author:
Katie Rowe Mitchell is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Yogi of Unfold Yoga + Wellness, a corporate wellness company based in Chicago. Unfold brings accessible and approachable yoga, meditation, and mindfulness education directly to professionals at their office. Happy, healthy people make better employees. Feel better, work better! When she’s not running all over town giving wellness presentations and teaching corporate yoga, you’ll find Katie walking her dog or cooking up some yummy pasta from scratch.