On Mental Wealth #1

Creating connection...one breath at a time 😀

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh

Breathing and Connection

In a study I recently completed, the #1 self-care practice by underestimated founders (Black, People of Color, Women, LGBTQ+) was time with close friends. 

We need a connection, but the first connection we must have is with ourselves. The original connection is our breath. This is why before I dig into other areas of mental wealth, I'll start with breathing. 

Our breath is present at all times. We can control it and not control it. It’s the wave that we ride from the time we are born to the time we die. Try not breathing for a minute of two and see how that works out for you :)

Breathe into Your Success

It’s 9:50am. You’re 10 minutes away from giving the presentation that will determine the fate of your job or business for the next year. At that moment, your palms are sweating, your heart is jumping out of your chest like a caged animal and the thought of running away is becoming a viable option.

Then, somewhere in the corner of your mind, you remember to take deep breaths and count to 10. After 2 or 3 rounds of 10, you start to get a little more settled. 

You go into the room and give an awesome presentation that leads to a promotion or major investment.

Why Did Your Breath Help You?

Your breathing practice can be used to work in tandem with your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), thereby affecting the functions of this complex system.

The ANS is the part of your nervous system that controls viscera (internal organs) of the body. It’s divided into two subsystems: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems (see image on the left).

Together, they control cardiac muscle, smooth muscle, and glands to maintain equilibrium within the body (heart rate, digestion, respiration, salivation, perspiration). ANS is an involuntary system, functioning without conscious control. This is a good thing considering many of us are distracted from the present moment.

The parasympathetic system (blue) is in charge of stimulation of “rest-and-digest” activities when the body is at rest including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, digestion and defecation. It’s responsible for putting on the brakes—the relaxation response—when you are in fight-or-flight mode. The parasympathetic system releases muscle tension, lowers blood pressure and slows the heart and breath rates.

The sympathetic nervous system (red) is your fight-or-flight system. It’s your gas pedal or turbo boost. Its reaction to stress is to release hormones that stimulate flight-or-flight mode including shifting blood flow from your organs to your limbs and increasing blood pressure. The stress response does not require an emergency; it can be triggered merely through everyday worries and pressures.

Due to the hectic pace of life today, many people, especially startup founders, are stuck in some level of fight-or-flight. Our sympathetic system is working overtime which results in the health issues from burnout to even worse.

A Daily Practice: 3-Part Breath

This technique is a complete breath done with long, slow, and deep breaths with the focus on the three chambers of the lungs. You can use the GIF on the left to help guide you.

If you have ever watched a baby breathe, you’ve seen this practice in action. The name of this practice comes from the focus on the 3 areas of the body:

Abdominal Chamber
You can tell when you’re breathing in this chamber when your belly inflates like a balloon when you inhale and relaxes when you exhale.

Thoracic Chamber
When you breathe into this chamber, your rib cage and the muscles that run between your ribs both expand and contract like an accordion.

Clavicular Chamber
When you inhale into this area, think about inhaling into the area between your shoulder blades and the upper part of your sternum and collarbones.

Here's Your Practice

Start by sitting in a chair or lying on your back and place your hands on your belly.

  1. Begin by taking long, slow, deep breaths through your nose while keeping your lower belly slightly toned.

  2. Inhale from your abdominal diaphragm and fill your lungs from the bottom up, moving from abdominal to thoracic to clavicular chambers. As you inhale, move your hands from your belly (abdominal), then the side of your ribs (thoracic) and then to the area just above your collarbones.

  3. Fill each chamber by expanding as much as possible as the breath flows in a wave- like motion.

  4. When you exhale, start from the top to the bottom like pouring water out of a pitcher. Move your hands down to follow the path of your breath.

  5. Before the end of your exhale, contract your abdominal muscles slightly, squeezing the last bit of air out of your lungs so they empty completely.

  6. Repeat this process until you start to get the hang of it. Remember that this is a practice. Have fun with it and reconnect with your breath.

Next time you feel that flight or fight energy start to creep up on you, just practice a few rounds of your 3-Part Breath. 

It’s so simple that babies practice it without thinking about it.

This post originally appeared in On Mental Wealth, a weekly creation by Anthony Ware, Principal, AWare Catalysts.

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