What is it and how to do it...
OK. So, Brain Breathing!
This is something I teach all my clients pretty much regardless of what they have come to me for. As a self-care technique it’s an important one to have in your toolbox. After having an accidental and somewhat validating chat some years ago with a neurologist I committed to making it part of my practice.
I start by explaining to my clients the difference between emotional and rational thinking and the roles they have to play in our everyday lives. That rational thinking activity mostly happens around the frontal and parietal lobe parts of the brain and emotional thinking and response activities from the temporal lobe, middle part of the brain (Neuroscientists welcome to comment and provide greater insights).
When we experience prolonged periods of stress and anxiety or a traumatic event our thinking can get locked in to an emotional thinking style. This emotional thinking style can get a bit greedy and hog all our attention. As a result we come to believe that it speaks the truth to us. For example: We may already be feeling tired and less resilient towards stress. We may have been thinking for a while 'Why am I so tired all the time?', 'What is wrong with me?' and ‘I don’t think I can take much more of this.’. Already the negative feedback has begun and the underlying stress builds. Much of these emotional responsive thoughts are so well rehearsed that they go under the radar but they simmer away ready to provide automatic negatives thoughts (ANT’s) at each and every moment as and when they are not needed.
An important event must be attended to and before we know it more demands are being placed on our resources to cope. A burst of adrenaline can be released in to the blood for apparently no valid reason. We may not know why adrenaline has been misfired in to the bloodstream, maybe a simple stress response to being run done perhaps. There are rational ways of understanding what is going on with us but we are of course too busy listening to our panicked emotional thoughts that are responding to the kick in the head its just been handed by the adrenaline buzz. We become focused on the awful unwanted feelings of a racing heart, hot sweatiness, feeling faint, nausea, blurry vision and the desire to get out that they intensify. Emotional thoughts collide to make sense of what is going on with what we are feeling 'I am having heart attack!’, ‘I am going to faint!’, ‘I am going to be sick!’, ‘Everyone can see what a fool I look!' etc... These thoughts feed the feelings and we get more of the same until we either, run, collapse or explode. (Dang feels like I’m about to talk myself in to a panic attack here!)
Whilst we are in the grip of these unpleasant feelings its our emotional thoughts that hold the floor in our brain. Evolutionarily speaking these emotional thoughts stand us in good stead. We need quick, knee jerk decisions in times of high risk. We need our mind focused on an appropriate assessment of what is to be done when our lives are in danger. Step forward emotional thinking! 'Yes you're right to be feeling scared as there is a lion about to attack you. Lets run away. Now! Fast!' These kinds of emotional thoughts are out of place in the queue at the checkout with your shopping. We become so overwhelmed by fear and fear without a reason that we start making up reasons.
When we are in a near constant state of worry, anxiety or stress these emotional thoughts keep reporting back to us reasons about why we are feeling so stressed, worried or anxious. But it does not always do a good job. 'You're feeling nauseous again because you have stomach ulcers, or IBS. And yes I think its not going to clear up, its possibly even cancer.' or 'Everybody else is so confident in meetings but I cant stop shaking inside because I am totally out of my depth and I am going to be found out very soon', 'I am better off going home sick to avoid the meeting.' None of these thoughts are very rational but they are very supportive of your feelings and can feel like solutions to difficult feelings and events. What they really do is reinforce the dominance of the emotional thinking style as well as create belief systems which result in behavioural changes. Its these behavioural changes that can negatively impact on our lives. Avoiding supermarkets, friends, social gathering, meetings etc…
Rational thinking is a better friend to us in times when we are not in danger. The thing is how do we readdress the balance and make rational thinking a stronger force than emotional thinking again. So, this is where, among other tools, tips, and techniques, Brain Breathing can help. I appreciate that I have spent much space here describing anxiety and how it can affect our thinking, feelings and behaviour. You may not be suffering from high amounts of anxiety. However if you have mental health problems you will have possibly developed quite a dominant emotional thinking style that feeds back to you the reasons for your irrational and unwanted behaviours, thoughts and feelings.
So, what of Brain Breathing? The object of Brain Breathing is to both give you a tool you can access as and when you need to relax and refocus as well as a technique that will strengthen your ability to rationalise instead of emotionalise thoughts, feelings, behaviours and events.
How to Brain Breathe
I ask my clients to set aside three minutes, three times a day to do the Brain Breathing exercise. Morning, afternoon and evening make sense. As well as scheduling in the exercise I ask them to use the exercise in the day as and when they feel themselves becoming anxious or emotionally top heavy.
Take a moment to focus on your breath. When you are happy that you have a breath to focus on notice it coming in to and leaving your body. Take a few of them, deep and deliberately.
When you are ready imagine when you inhale that your breath is coming into and washing through your brain. Feel it bringing energy and vitality, restoring and invigorating your brain to a happy and healthy state of being. If it helps imagine too that the air you breath in is full of a healing light.
Enjoy this sensation of freshness for a few breaths and again when you are ready imagine that when you exhale all the unhelpfulness that currently goes on in your brain is leaving.
Breathing in and out, as normally as you can inhaling in refreshing energy and vitality. Then breathing out unhelpfulness, unwanted thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours.
Do this for three minutes and then go about your day as normal.
A thing to be aware of.
Ok. Lots of people give up most kinds of mediation too quickly believing that they cant do it or that they’ve failed. This is an awful thing to take away from meditation. We all get those annoying thoughts, that poke their nose in when we are trying to focus on something else. But its ok. Have those thoughts. We all have them, its all part of the process. You cant fail at this exercise by having intrusive thoughts. Not doing the exercise would be to fail at it. The last thing you need to be feeling is that you’ve failed at something that was designed to help you. That’s only going to make you feel even more helpless!
As and when you notice the thoughts greet them and usher them away, returning your focus back to the exercise. You could say something like ‘Oh hello thought, I notice you there. I’m a bit busy right now doing this brain breathing thing. Its really cool and very very useful. Give me three minutes and I will get back to you and give you all the attention you want.’. Once your done return your focus back to your breath and carry on until the three minutes are up.
That’s it. That’s Brain Breathing. Its not a tremendous drain on your time or energy and it will give back to you way more than you expected. Enjoy!
If you'd like to learn more about Brain Breathing in the form of a handy short course along with a very useful downloadable companion audio then look no further because i've done that for you. Just click here..........