stop, drop and breathe!

 

Have you ever noticed that there seems to be a common reaction to moments of sudden increased tension, unexpected news, or times when we’re nervous, frightened or otherwise overwhelmed?  We hold our breath.

 

Marianne, Norway

 

You might recognize that you tend to hold your breath in the following situations:

~ a car stops suddenly in front of yours and you must break hard to avoid a collision
~ you hear that someone close to you has experienced a devastating loss
~ as a joke, someone jumps out at your from around a corner to “scare” you
~ you’re performing a physically challenging task
~ you have a zillion things to do so you plow through without break or breath!

It doesn’t even need to be an extreme situation of tension or loss.  I’ve witnessed this in a yoga class when I asked a group of beginner students to extend more deeply into a simple pose or to hold it longer.  Suddenly, the entire room was not breathing.  En masse, the class was holding its breath and the energy change in the room because of it was palpable.  It seems odd that something we do without thinking and that is proof that we are alive, we unconsciously choose not to do it in a reaction to stress.

I could write a book on all the reasons we hold our breathe but suffice it to say that it is not in the best interest of our body, minds or souls to hold our breath in times of stress.  Stress, especially chronic stress, creates a toxic environment in our body and breathing is the Mighty De-toxifier who releases 70% of all toxins when we breathe deeply.

When things get tough and your nerves are jangling like a set of car keys, you can stop, drop and breathe.  Nothing I’ve ever experiences puts out the fire of panic and chaotic thinking like breathing.  Here are three key steps to get your started making this a daily habit.

1.  STOP

I mean this literally.   In the face of whatever is happening in the moment of tension, stress, panic or unexpectedness, just stop.   Take a moment.  The world will not end if you take a moment of awareness instead of reacting immediately and unconsciously.

2.  DROP  (NOTICE)

Notice when you tend to hold your breath most often.  What types of situations find you most often reacting this way?  Physical?  Emotional?  Relational? How often in a day do you find yourself not breathing regularly?  Where does it happen?  Work?  Home?  Social Situations?  What part of your body tenses when your breath is not flowing?  How do you feel after the tense moment subsides and you begin breathing again?  Where does your mind (and at what speed) go when your breath stops?

3.  BREATHE

Then when you’ve stopped, noticed that you’re in a situation where you’d most often hold your breath, allow the breath to flow.  Without force or attempting to deepen your breath in any way, simply let it flow naturally in and out.  It knows what to do!  While your respiratory system is doing its job, just notice.  What is the quality of your breath?  Where do you notice it showing up in your body?  Your nostrils?  Chest?  Belly?  Again, without directing it, just be aware that it is  happening.

With practice, you will eventually more aware of your tendency to keep your breath from naturally doing its job.  Begin to notice how you feel once you’ve chosen to maintain a steady, even breath even during tense moments.  Notice any differences in the tightness in your body, the stories in your mind and your recovery time from the stressful situation.

Look for future posts on more amazing benefits of breathing and simple methods of incorporating deep, rejuvenating breathing into each and every day.  Happy breathing!

 

 

 

 

the reluctant coach

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, I was sitting on a bench in a playground watching my two pre-school sons navigate the jungle gym with a raw, adventurous curiosity that only children who have not yet been formally educated can have.

But since I’d had almost two decades of formal education by that point in my life most of my curious wonderings were tucked firmly away in deep, dusty pockets of parental responsibility, exhaustion and occasional bouts of generalized cynicism.

Feeling protective of my precious pseudo-solitude on the bench when my boys weren’t needing me to wipe something, tie something or solve some emotional upheaval between them, I’m sure I let out an audible sigh when a father and his young daughter wandered into the playground.

playground

With no energy to make small talk, I kept my gaze in the direction of my playing boys taking full advantage of that spacey, far-off look I get when tiredness gets in the driver’s seat of my attention. A stolen sideways glance at the father revealed the slump-shouldered look of a man who likely had even less energy for conversation than I did.  For that, I was grateful.

He mumbled some sort of greeting as he sat down on the bench next to me and for a few sacred moments there was an easy silence that was broken only by our infrequent individual interaction with our children.  But then I heard his audible sigh revealing that he was not as much at ease as I had assumed and apparently felt a obligation to begin a conversation.

“Do you live around here?”

From there, we rode the merry-go-round of pleasantries for a few minutes and then he asked what my then-husband did for a living.  I caught myself hesitating to respond.  Turning to do a visual check of my boys’ whereabouts, I did my best to put on an air of casualness.

“He’s a…ummm…he’s a motivational speaker”.

Clearly unimpressed, he grunted loudly.  “A motivational speaker?  Humph….what does he go on about?”

I stifled my own laughter as I tried feebly conjure up the words to defend my husband’s choice of life’s work to this stranger who clearly thought the whole thing was a load of bunk.   But, in fact, I had struggled to “get“ the idea of my ex’s line of work for a long time.  Yes, I know he was helping others towards a new level of self-development and encouraging them to discover transforming moments in their lives.  He was sincere, he was gifted and what he did was important.  Clearly.  But was it work?

According to the Gospel of My Inner Script, work had always meant hard labour whether that be manual, mental, emotional or spiritual.  It meant getting tired.  Even exhausted.  It meant not taking vacations.  And it mostly meant people commenting on the unbelievable schedule I was keeping and how dedicated I must be to keep up the grueling pace all in the name of hard work.  Dark circles and bags strategically under each eye along with frequent illnesses helped with this plan.

Loading hay

Fast-forward a couple of decades later .  My boys are now out in the world, on their own.  Ex-husband is very successfully motivating others in another country.   And I’m here, consciously choosing to the change my life-script,  to find a more useful meaning for the term ‘work’ and to create a beautiful, engaging and passionate life/work balance.

After two more decades of informal education ( life experience) and a renewed child-like curiosity, I’m being drawn inexplicably towards an evolving life’s work that encourages others to dig deep to re-discover the best version of themselves.  To give them a framework for re-writing their own scripts and for setting out intentions and goals.  To help them rewire the neural connections that have been feeding the not-so-useful habits and ingrained patterns that are keeping them stuck.   To help them getting reacquainted with their own body and its deep wisdom.  To help them explore methods of daily groundedness and ease in the face of free-floating anxiety or numbing fear.  To challenge them to draw on their skills, their experiences and their unique personality to create a life of abundance, passion and significance.

So how’s that for getting run right over by the freaking karma bus?   Snickering cynic turned life cheerleader.  Sarcastic skeptic turned self-help sister.  Life-long workaholic turned life coach, mentor and ally.

After I stopped rolling my eyes at myself, I realize this work is what I’ve been doing for most of my life. Intuitively.  And it’s a natural progression of my teaching and guiding of overwhelmed adolescent learners as well as instructing in the practices of yoga and meditation. This evolution of a life’s work that hums marvelously with more balance and is deeply aligned with my deepest values has happened right before my eyes.  This is just too good not to share.

Just in case you think I’m branching into this area because I’ve got it all together, think again.  With miles to go before I sleep, I’m considering nifty monikers for myself like The Manic Mentor or Your Anxious Ally.   But I’m quite certain that those wouldn’t be good marketing strategies and my business coach would highly object.

Stick around if you would like to learn some basic strategies that have tremendously helped me to create a clearer more settled path from overwhelmed to okay.

 

overwhelmed to okay

Danette cries easily even when making minor errors like reversing her ‘b’s and ‘p’s while Printing.”

In my defense, I was only 5 years old when this was written.  And Kindergarten was hard!   Even having a magically-kind teacher, who was as close to being Glinda the Good Witch as any human being could get, couldn’t keep the too-muchness of my new learning and social schedule at bay.  Glinda was spot on.  Danette was definitely overwhelmed.

Kindergarten class 1957

I somehow managed to conquer the internal chaos long enough to successfully read and comprehend Fun With Dick & Jane, spelling basic words, counting to 100, master Finger-painting 101 as well as completing several more decades of formal education.

But not all of it was a smooth ride and, in fact, several ages and stages of my life required a treacherously steep climb to maintain any sense of balance and harmony.  Often the overwhelm won over and being out of control, feeling trapped and stuck were the results.

In my first year as a High School Guidance Counsellor, I attended a Professional Development Day where the Head of the Counselling Centre at a local world-class university gave the audience of educators alarming statistics on the increasing numbers of university students with debilitating anxiety.  This trend has consistently been confirmed in my decade of work with my adolescent students.

Now, midway through the lifespan of an average female earth walker, I’ve spent most of my waking hours exploring methods to cope with overwhelm. Some strategies have miraculously turned out to be quite skillful and useful while many have been filed under the heading “Are You Kidding?”

In this blog, I’ll share stories, observations and beneficial strategies for all those who need it occasionally and especially for those, like me, who are prone to being easily overcome by overwhelm on a regular basis.

You shall find serenity

Traveling from the land of Overcome to the plains of Okay is a journey that is entirely possible and extremely liberating.  I do it all the time.  Journey along with me and see what is waiting around the bend.

 

 

forging a path

I am oddly passionate about words.  Forging is a word that has some serious heft to it.  It makes me think of firm-bodied men and women, who come from hearty peasant stock, clearing the land of dense forest so they could set up shop in their newly tamed patch of land and bear litters of stocky children to help them claim and clear more land.  It speaks of fierce determination and a horse-drawn work ethic that’ll take you as far as your covered wagon can take you.

To be honest though, I was originally leaning towards using a tagline that read “faking a path to overcoming the overwhelm” because on any given day, I can also find myself walking out into the world with wearing my “fake it till you make it” sunglasses.

Either word will do the trick if it gets me closer to a place of balance. Finding or creating a place of sustainable serenity that is far past the fields of fear, panic and debilitating anxiety.

But “forging” speaks more strongly to the fact this work, this awakening to reactive patterns, to noticing addiction to anxious activity and to climbing out of the ocean of overwhelm are not tasks for the faint of heart.  Simple but certainly not easy.

The stories we tell ourselves are stored deeply in our cells and one or two of the lifetime of anecdotes are revealed with every step and every breath we take.  So, one step at a time, one breath at time, the stories are asking to be re-written, the breath is calling out to be breathed consciously and the peace that comes from being only in the present moment can be experienced.