One Hundred Breaths
“Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Our breath is life, we cannot exist without it. An adult takes on average 15 unconscious breaths per minute at rest. That respiratory rate goes up considerably when we exercise, as part of our fight-flight response (when we are anxious or afraid), and if we have lung conditions such as asthma or COPD.
Breathing is an autonomous process, meaning that we do not think about it consciously, our body has known what to do from our first cry. Interestingly, the cue to take a breath is not driven by a lack of oxygen in the blood, but rather a build-up of the waste gas cardon dioxide. When levels of CO2 reach a high enough level, the breathing centre in our brainstem is triggered. It signals the muscle that is our diaphragm and the accessory muscles in our neck and chest to open up the chest cavity, initiating a breath.
When we are afraid, our brain activates the fight-flight response and our respiratory rate automatically increases to oxygenate our muscles and prepare us for action. As the circulating levels of adrenaline and stress hormones such as cortisol rise, so does the respiratory rate. This can quickly become out of control and we may find ourselves taking much shorter, faster breaths; we are hyperventilating. Carbon dioxide is blown out more quickly than expected and unfortunately this takes away that normal drive to breathe. This is why when we hyperventilate we can often feel like we cannot take a breath in. The lower level of carbon dioxide causes blood vessels to constrict and so we may also feel faint and suffer from pins and needles or numbness in our fingers and toes.
When we breathe consciously we are more aware of what is happening in our body. We can then take the decision to slow and deepen our breaths. If we are hyperventilating we can choose to breathe into a bag to allow the carbon dioxide to build up and assert more control over our breathing. We can consciously use our diaphragm to breathe. This stimulates the Vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, switching off the fight-flight response and switching on the relaxation response.
Two to five minutes of diaphragmatic breathing is enough to trigger the relaxation response and so we can achieve this state in 30 – 75 breaths. We have devised a breathing exercise to generate maximum positive body chemistry in 100 breaths.
Find a quiet comfortable spot
Sit with your sine straight
Bring your awareness to you breathing
The tidal quality
Notice the rate and rhythm
As you breathe release any tension you are holding in the face, neck and shoulders
Allow your breaths to slow and deepen
Use the diaphragm for deep belly breaths
Now start to count your breaths
For twenty deep belly breaths bring your thoughts to something that has happened this week that you are truly grateful for.
A gift, a kind word, a positive experience.
Next for twenty deep belly breaths bring your thoughts to something you are proud to have done or been part of this week.
Did you help someone? Did you create something? Did you stick you your principles in a situation?
Next for twenty deep belly breaths bring your thoughts to something you have learned this week.
This might be knowledge or skills. It may be an awareness of a facet of Self that is influencing your responses.
Next for twenty deep belly breaths bring your thoughts to your intentions for the week ahead
Is there a project you need to start? A task you have been avoiding or something that you can’t wait to get your teeth into?
Finally for twenty deep belly breaths repeat the following affirmation of your worth in time with your breaths:
“I am worthy”
“I am capable”
“I am whole”
When you are ready bring yourself back to full awareness and enjoy the positive emotions you have evoked. Remember you can do this at any time make it shorter or longer, whatever works for you.
For more insights and a host of tools and techniques for exploring the Self and improving your human experience see our book: