4 Easy Steps to the Healthy Writer Life –Breathe!
By now you’ve had a chance to practice step 1, step 2, and step 3 in the 4 steps series. Have you stuck with it? Do you notice any changes? Hopefully, you’re seeing some shifts that make you feel more energetic and joyful or simply bring a smile to your face as you stretch your arms up and take a deep breath several times a day.
This leads me to Step 4 … breathing. Babies automatically belly-breathe, yet somewhere along the way, we unlearn this vital action, one that should be automatic. And we pay a steep price for shallow breathing.
Belly Breathing Can Change Your Life
I love to belly breathe. I learned how when I began Yoga in 2006, and I believe it is critical to managing my pain, feeling energetic, and getting deeper sleep.
For example, when I get stabbing, horrible, contorting nerve pain in my feet and toes, instead of panicking, I deep breathe through it, and it usually settles down quickly. Plus, it keeps my blood pressure from skyrocketing and keeps my fight-or-flight response to a minimum. I also imagine my breath going to the source of the pain, which seems to help.
At night, before bed, I do a series of light yoga poses and stretches with Ujjayi Pranayama breathing. I breathe so deeply from my diaphragm, I can feel the lower lobes of my lungs expand. I do this until the tightness in my chest and back dissipates and I feel loose all over. This takes practice, but wow! does it feel amazing. As a rule, I sleep deeply throughout the night.
The Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
Most of us don’t realize that when we’re concentrating, we often hold our breath. We can go for hours in our writing zone with very shallow breathing or not breathing at all in small stints. Relaxed breathing is normal, but constricted breathing is detrimental.
Unfortunately, poor breathing habits affect every part of our body by limiting vital oxygen and not expelling carbon dioxide. Without proper breathing, you will feel tired, stressed, tense, and lethargic. You might have brain fog, more pain, tingling in your extremities, and even the occasional heart palpitation.
Several times a day, to give yourself an energy boost and let go of tension, belly breathe, which is the same as breathing from your diaphragm.
Diaphragmatic breathing can:
- Reduce stress, physical and emotional.
- Lower your resting heart rate and keep it low, long-term.
- Improve lack of circulation from sitting.
- Help you get through and minimize chronic pain.
- Deliver fresh oxygen to the brain.
- Improve mood and create feelings of joy.
- Help you manage anxiety, pain, and depression with just your breath.
- Reduce blood pressure.
I know – belly breathing makes your tummy stick out and nobody wants that! I grew up when it was fashionable to suck in your gut to look as slim as possible. It became a bad habit and I’ve been un-learning it for 16 years.
Did you know that your diaphragm is the biggest muscle involved in respiration? It also mobilizes the ribs and your thoracic and lumbar spine for posture stability.
To breathe with intent and give your body as much oxygen and circulation as possible:
Put your hand on your diaphragm and take a deep breath through your nose. Your belly should push out. This feels unnatural, but this is essential to deep breathing.
Fill your diaphragm slowly with as much air as you can (keep your shoulders down) and hold it for a couple of counts (I hold my breath for 8-9 counts, but I had to work up to that).
When you do this, you will naturally sit up straight to make room for the expansion. Also, do not tip your head back. That restricts airflow. Keep your nose pointed straight ahead and your chin level.
Now, when you exhale, you can do it two ways. They both work well and come with their own benefits.
1. Exhale slowly through your nose, mouth closed, tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, relaxed, and pretend you’re fogging a mirror (Ujjayi Pranayama). This exhale will make a noise – you’ll sound a little Darthy, but that’s when you know you’re doing it right. Nose exhaling can optimize oxygen (10 to 20% more uptake) and lower carbon dioxide levels, improve cognition, eliminate brain fog, clear sinuses, and warm the body. It stimulates and relaxes at once.
2. The other option is to exhale through your mouth. This is a natural anxiety reliever and delivers an immediate tension release in the upper body. It also cools the body. Notice when you exhale through your mouth, your shoulders automatically drop? We automatically orally exhale when we’re exasperated. The good news is that when deep breathing becomes natural for you, the big sighs of exasperation will become less frequent.
How to Breathe for Rejuvenation
Every hour or so, sit up straight (or get on the floor in a relaxed position: sit without legs crossed* as it can stop the flow of energy or lay on your back), shut your eyes, and put your hand loosely on your diaphragm.
*You can sit with legs pretzel-style, but my yoga teacher expressed that if each leg and foot is on the floor with legs touching, rather than stacked, energy will flow rather than be pinched by crossing legs and feet.
If you have a busy mind, think of a peaceful place just for a minute. Work can wait. Pretend you’re in your favorite forest, beach, mountain, or garden.
Focus on inhaling to the count of 4 (work up to 5, 6, 7, 8 as you get better at it), hold for 2 counts, then exhale through your nose or mouth to the count of 4 (work up to 5, 6, 7, 8 as you get better at it). Do this four to five times.
*If you feel light-headed, stop and sit down until it passes. This will improve the more you do it.
For even more zing and a good stretch, stand with arms at your sides, shoulder blades down, and do the following several times.
- Inhale to the count of 4–9 (whatever count you can do) while you raise your arms up to the side, above your head.
- Put your hands together (as in prayer) and look up at your hands, while you hold your breath for the count of 2.
- Then breathe out as you bring your head to the original position and slowly fan your arms out, bringing them down to your sides on the exhale.
Arms fanning up helps make room for lung expansion and brings blood flow to your upper body. Just make sure you stand with your body evenly over your hips, feet hip-distance apart, back straight, knees relaxed. No tension in the body.
The Moral of the Story – Breath Deep to Restore Energy, Lower Stress, and Improve Wellness
In an effort to be the best writer I can be, I have come to understand what my body, mind, and spirit need to function at a high level. I know I need lots of water, additional electrolytes, lots of movement (especially in nature), and rich oxygen to feel my best.
I am human too – I find myself holding my breath or sitting too long, but certain things like my bedtime breathing and yoga, drinking tons of water, getting electrolytes, and moving a lot are essential to a minimal amount of pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is much worse without these four essentials, so it is in my best interest to pay attention and do these simple actions.
To get a jump on the healthy writer life, it really can be as easy as adding several glasses of high-quality water, electrolytes to absorb the water, more physical movement, and intentional, deep belly breathing each day.
- Drink plenty of high-quality water to alleviate numerous ailments.
- Drink electrolytes for energy, neuro function, and optimal hydration.
- Conscientiously move throughout the day to stay comfortable.
- Take breathing breaks to alleviate stress and the ill effects of shallow breathing.
If you have any questions, be sure to reach out to me or feel free to join the conversation.
The text, graphics, images, and other material contained on the Healthy Writer Life website are for informational and educational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your distinct healthcare needs and/or medical condition. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you have read on the Healthy Writer Life website. Regular exercise and dietary needs vary for each individual; you are responsible for your own health and safety at all times.