Author Tal Ben-Shahar offers these two choices:
Take short, shallow breaths — or — Breathe deeply and slowly
“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”
Shallow breathing is a reaction to the unyielding stress of modern life—and is itself a cause of further stress, which leads to more shallow breathing. To stop this downward spiral of shallow breathing and stress—even in the midst of the daily mayhem—I can take three or four deep breaths and enter an upward spiral of deep breathing and calm. I can switch on the healing power of deep breathing right now and at any time throughout my day—as I wake up, while on the train, in the middle of a meeting, before going to sleep, while waiting for the red light to turn green, or while reading a book. All I need to do is gently, without strain, fill up the space of my belly, and then slowly and tenderly breathe out.
Thomas Crum, in his book Three Deep Breaths, follows Angus, a busy man who is unsuccessfully trying to achieve work-life balance. Angus is torn between his desire to spend quality time with his wife and daughter, and the relentless demands of his work. And he ends up feeling frustrated in both spheres. He experiences constant stress, guilt, anger, and fatigue.
One morning, when everything seems to be going wrong, Angus meets an old man who becomes his teacher. The old man helps Angus regain his center, by introducing him to the three-deep-breaths technique. This scientifically based technique is simple, and it can help us all shift from the fight-or-flight response to what Herbert Benson calls the “relaxation response.”
I use a variation of Thomas Crum’s technique, and it has done wonders for me. I take a first belly breath—breathing slowly and deeply, expanding my stomach as I breathe in—and I focus on centering, on being present in the here and now. I take a second deep belly breath, and while doing so focus on my purpose—whether for that day or for my life as a whole. The third deep breath is dedicated to something for which I’m grateful—thinking about a family member, a meeting I had or am about to have, or anything else.
The physiological impact of deep breathing, coupled with the cognitive component of focusing on something positive, provides a powerful technique that can change the way you feel. The technique is particularly effective in bringing about calm and joy if you do it a few times a day.
Excerpt from Choose the Life You Want: The Mindful Way to Happiness, copyright © Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, 2014. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.