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Breathing breaks (DW#684)

Yesterday we talked about how shifting our breathing pattern can help us manage our impatience.

Of course, we do not need to wait until we are feeling impatient in order to breathe intentionally.

In fact, a great way to instill calm and emotional regulation in ourselves is to practice taking micro-breathing breaks all day.

A breathing break is simply a reminder to become aware of your breath and to breathe intentionally for a few moments at a time.

You may notice that pausing for a couple of minutes every hour for a breathing break relaxes and energizes you and it clears your mind. The rest of the hour that follows the breathing break will be more focused, productive and pleasant.

So go ahead and set an alarm for a breathing break every hour and notice the amazing impact that it has on your day in terms of calming and focusing your energy.

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Notice the impatience (DW#683)

When you are stuck in traffic (or in the s.l.o.w.e.s.t line at the grocery store), how do you react? If all you can think of is how much of your time is being wasted and why cannot everyone just hurry up and get out of your way, then you need to know something.

Impatience like this speeds up your pulse, your blood pressure rises and your breath becomes shallow. Short, shallow jerky breaths in turn compound your frustration because your body is not getting enough oxygen.

And because it takes time to calm down from such impatience, the quality of your life during this time is greatly impacted. Impatience has caused you to lose a great deal in terms of health, wellbeing and lifespan. In other words, by being frustrated about the loss of your time you have ended up losing more time in a way.

Yikes.

Learning to breathe intentionally in situations like this can provide a valuable alternate to the biological alarm and fight/flight response.

As soon as you notice your impatience, take it as...

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Breathe into your belly (DW#682)

A very simple way to slow and elongate your breath is to practice breathing into your belly.

As you inhale (through your nose, remember?), watch your belly blow up like a balloon. Fill up the balloon as much as you can and then watch it deflate as you exhale.

(Even young children can be taught to breathe like this by keeping a stuffed toy on their belly. As they breathe in, the stuffed toy will rise and and fall as they breathe out. You can also keep something light on your belly to raise your awareness of your breathing).

Breathing like this allows up to seven times more oxygen into your blood and your system than shallow breathing. That’s right. SEVEN TIMES.

Breathing like this counteracts the loss of flexibility in the lungs that happens with age.

As we grow older, we tend to lose more and more flexibility in our chest and lungs. If measures aren’t taken to counteract this disposition, we experience and constriction in the chest area. We become more hunched when we...

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Slow down (DW#681)

In the last post, we talked about how we can manage our stress response through breathing.

Today let us talk about what researchers call the "resonant rate" of breathing. This is the optimal breathing rate—the rate at which you flip the switch to your parasympathetic nervous system and slow down your heart rate. When you breathe at the optimal rate, your PNS calms down and your brain waves settle into a calm, healthy and happy rhythm.

Do you know how fast you are breathing as compared to the optimal rate? Before going any further, go ahead and open the stopwatch on your phone and measure your breath for 30 seconds and then multiply by 2.

How many breaths a minute did you clock in? Mine was 15 and I thought I was relaxed at the time.

According to researchers, the optimal breathing rate is between 3.5 to 5 breaths per minute. In other words, each breath should last between 12 to 17 seconds.

That is way, way slower than most of us breathing at the moment. And we are not going to...

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Flipping the switch on stress (DW#680)

Let us talk some more about how our breathing is related to our stress levels.

As you may know, our nervous systems have two parts: the parasympathetic nervous system(PNS) and thesympathetic nervous system(SNS). The parasympathetic system takes care of the "rest and digest" side of things while the sympathetic system takes care of "fight or flight" stuff. In short, we have the relaxation response and the stress response.

We obviously need both and each have an important role to play in our functioning and wellbeing.

Here is the problem though: modern life has thrown us into a near-constant state of arousal and hypervigilance and for most of us, our sympathetic nervous system works overtime, leading to all stress, dysfunction and burnout. In other words, our PNS and SNS become unbalanced, one working overtime and other lying dormant.

How can we learn to balance these two for optimal wellbeing?

The fastest and simplest way is to become intentional about breathing.

Try this now:

Take a...

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Exhale for longer (DW#679)

We have all heard the term: take a deep breath when you are stressed. And so, we do. And wonder why it does not work to calm us down.

It is because we only focus on the inbreath and do not pay attention to the outbreath.

If we are not exhaling properly, not only can we not calm down, we are also not detoxifying fully. Did you know that breathing is responsible for 70% of our body’s detoxification? Compared to this, elimination and sweat only take care of only 30%!

And when we do not detoxify properly, we are not fueling our cells properly. This pattern results in compromised wellbeing on many different levels.

So, go ahead: squeeze your diaphragm. Make sure to get all the air out before your next inbreath. Focus on the exhale and the inhale will almost take care of itself.

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Breathe deeply (DW#678)

The second rule of optimal breathing is to breathe deeply.

When we are stressed, our breath becomes very shallow, reaching only until our chest. When we breathe like this, it is a signal to the body to be on high alert.

Breathing like this fuels the flight or fight mechanism of our nervous system. We body gets more tense and we cannot relax. If we are in a situation of danger this mechanism really helps us by driving the oxygen and energy where it is needed, to our arms and legs: to fight the situation or to run away from danger. It does this by turning the energy away from organs that do not need it in the present situation . . .our brains, the digestive system, the lymphatic system that repairs the body.

Breathings shallow is less than useful (and destructive) when there is no danger or only imagined danger.

This is why it is important to practice breathing deeply.

So, go ahead and use your diaphragm – an important and much underutilized muscle in our body.

Fill up the lower...

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Goal achievement on turbo (DW#622)

There is another, subtler reason why pausing and expressing gratitude in the midst of a project can help us get further along the path of goal achievement.

According to researchers Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats, our brains release dopamine (the feel-good hormone) when we achieve goals. Makes sense that we feel good about our achievements, right?

Now, since dopamine improves attention, memory, and motivation(to get more of the feel good sensation), even achieving a small goal can result in a positive feedback loop that makes you more motivated to work harder going forward. When we pause to give gratitude for the achievement, this good-feeling is magnified: first through achieving the goal and secondly by savouring the win through recalling it with gratitude.

This is why we need to stop and give thanks in the pursuit of a goal. If we acknowledge the small wins and milestones along the way, the winning feeling of achievement is deepened and magnified. And it will continue to propel...

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Worship at night (DW#595)

And during a part of the night, say the night prayer beyond what is incumbent on you; perhaps your Lord will raise you to a praiseworthy position. Quran 17:79

Reflection: These verses from Sura Israa (The Night Journey) are addressed in the first instance to the Holy Prophet (saw) advising him that the best means of closeness to his Beloved Lord is to stay up and worship in the night when the rest of mankind is sleeping comfortably,

It is said that the fastest means of transportation towards Allah is to worship at night. During the day so many things occupy our time and mind. We are distracted and it is challenging to find silence, solitude and peace to communicate with the Divine. It is easier to connect spiritually with Allah during the stillness of night when the demands of work and family are on hold for the moment. It is also easier to be free of the ego-drives of looking good that can sometimes creep into our worship, especially when they draw praise from others.

There is much...

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Implementation intentions for parenting (DW#586)

We have been exploring examples for implementation intentions for different areas of our lives in order to give ourselves the best chance of reaching our goals in these areas. 

Here are some examples of implementation intentions for common obstacles in parenting. 

·     If my child drops something, I will help them clean it up without drama
·     If my child wants to tell me something, I will stop what I am doing and listen
·     If my child makes a mistake, I will take the time to give them feedback 
·     If my child wants to learn a new skill, I will train them
·     If my child asks a difficult question that makes me feel uncomfortable, I will be brave and engage in the conversation
·     If my children are fighting I will not join the chaos
·     If...

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