take a deep breath.

2010 August 2 § 2 Comments

Yesterday night, I was on my way home from a relaxing and delicious night spent with friends. It was nighttime, so it was dark, but there weren’t many cars on the road; there never is, at 11:00pm.

The light was green, so of course I continued through the intersection. Next thing I know, I slam on the brakes because some fool of a driver isn’t able to tell the difference between red and green, speeding through the intersection. Had I continued at the speed I’d been going at, my car would almost certainly have been hit.

The near-accident didn’t really hit me until I’d made my way into the complex and parked – and then my hands started shaking. It took me a few minutes to relax again, but after a while I was able to take a deep breath and make my way back to the apartment.

Many people underestimate the power of taking a deep breath. It calms anger; it can relax the body. Taking several deep breath can mean the difference between being ready to take the test, and missing some easy questions out of nervousness.

I’m not just talking about in-and-out breathing, though. Since weighty high school tennis matches and AP exams made me more than a little freaked out when I was younger, I started paying attention to what calmed me down. Breathing is just an action, and rather useless if you don’t do it with any real intent; when I was nervous, I paid attention to what it was that calmed me down. Part of it was deep breaths, but a lot of it has to do with how I did it. Not too surprisingly, a lot of what I learned then and what I do now when I need those deep breaths is backed up by science:

Your brain is multi-lingual but its mother tongue is waves. Brainwaves.

The movement of your breath occurs in wave form too. If you were hooked up to a machine, your breath would be measured in waves.

The brain will always, always, always “read” and synchronize itself to whatever waves are around. Your breath will do the same.

That’s why you breathe faster when you’re upset — the choppy breath waves are reflecting your stressed-out brain. And when you consciously slow down the breath, you’re influencing that same process from the other side.

The more smooth and steady the waves of the breath, the more peaceful the brainwaves. Your brain then tells the rest of your system to chill.

– Havi Brooks, “Don’t Bother Taking A Deep Breath”

Me, I start with the deep breaths – slow and steady, concentrating on the in and out of the action. Then, I imagine whatever emotion it is that is eddying blackly inside me – stress, freak-out-syndrome, nervousness – and expel it out of me with each breath.

But every person is different. Visualization helps me to relax, and focusing on the action of breathing also takes my mind off of whatever is bothering me. Someone else might prefer counting; another might need to focus more on the action of breathing itself (for example, holding each inhalation and exhalation to a certain count). Either way, controlled, deep breathing (done correctly) has a long history as a tried-and-true method of stress relief and technique for calming the mind.

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