What’s your relationship with uncertainty?
For many of us, it can be very unsettling. But learning to deal with uncertainty can unleash tremendous power within us.
This practice of leaning into the unknown without reacting, however, is not just a great mindfulness exercise — when we apply it to our breath, it can likewise have a tremendous impact on our lives.
The suspension of our breath, although sometimes scary, is harm free and comes with a treasure trove of benefits. (And, in case you’re concerned, no, holding your breath will not kill any of your neurons, but here are some things that might!)
Through my background as a practitioner and teacher of Ashtanga yoga, I have learned how to use breath retention as a force of change in my life.
In a recent issue of The Weekly Practice, I explained the difference between our Parasympathetic Nervous System and Sympathetic Nervous System. I went on to share that when we get into a stressful situation, our heart rate increases and that this increased heart rate led to higher brain wave frequency. This is important to understand because this situation is what leads tolower cognitive function and results in muddied thinking, reduced memory recall, and possibly detrimental behavior.
If that all sounds like the all-too familiar fight-or-flight mode, you’re spot on.
Unfortunately, since our systems do not discern levels of stress(you’re either in fight-or-flight mode or you’re not), our bodies and brains don’t always respond appropriately.
But as I explained in that article, breathing deeply invites our nervous system to function at a parasympathetic level (rest and digest), rather than a sympathetic level (fight-or-flight) — and that can help us cope with things.
When we retain the breath, we accumulate CO2 in our bloodstream, creating a cardio-inhibitory response of the vagus nerve that stimulates the parasympathetic response.
AKA: Everything S L O W S D O W N.
Our heart rate reduces. Our blood pressure drops. Out diaphragm thickens. Our lungs take in more oxygen. And our brain reduces chatter and focuses.
All because our brain is yearning to arrive at the next breath.
But you don’t have take my word for it or buy into a bunch of woo woo gobbledygook. Just check in with Mark Divine, the Navy SEAL commander who runs SEALFIT in Encinitas where he teaches this technique to his trainees as part of their programs. (Pretty un-woo-woo, right?)
And, of course, you don’t need to take anyone’s word for it. You can try it out for yourself right now.
So try it.
The key, as always, will be consistency. The Focus Factor program launching this JUNE (that I am SO excited about) will certainly help to nurture that C-word). For now, check out this quickie mindfulness exercise that will help you play with suspension & breath.
I invite you to lean in. And when it feels a little uncomfortable, know that I’m right here with you, leaning in too.