Question: are you breathing right now?
Admit it - you didn't even check! You just assumed you were.
I know that I'm prone to it. (Not breathing, that is.)
Cutting off my breath. Disconnecting from my body.
I did it for 35 years before I learned about noticing the present moment. (And that whole, "it's important to breathe" thing.)
Once I tuned in and practicing just inhaling and exhaling consistently, that's when the magic started to happen in my life.
What was the magic, you ask?
- I've found a greater acceptance of things just as they are (flaws and all!)
- I'm generally less reactive and can respond more thoughtfully
- I'm developing an increased capacity to stop what I am doing in the moment and make a different choice
- More recently, I've been working on turning negative thoughts around just as they start to happen
Here's the thing I've learned: I cut off from my breath when I am triggered. My guess is that you do the same.
Your body, in a valiant effort to protect you, has a physiological response to an emotional trigger.
It might look like a racing heart, sweaty palms, tightened stomach, or clenched jaw for example.
When this happens, you may begin shallow breathing. Or just cut off all together and actually hold your breath for a few seconds at a time.
Don't worry, I haven't gone totally zen, I still freak out.
Here's an embarassing personal example: One day last month I was rooting through the refrigerator looking for a quick snack when I came upon a large pack of sliced Deli Turkey. It's a convenience protein that works rolled up in lunches for my big kid. And for me to stuff with veggies, homemade mayo, and top with probiotic-rich Bubbies pickles to gobble up when I'm feeling snacky.
When I am in charge of shopping, I buy a pound on crazy weeks when it's on sale and make it last it alllll week. When my husband is in charge of shopping, he apparently buys almost 2 pounds, full-price, and it's gone in 4 days.
I saw the $17 price tag on the bag and I was instantly triggered. Money is a hot button topic for me.
I have all sorts of unresolved icky feelings around it. It's linked to my upbringing, my past bad experiences with it, my fears of not having enough of it. I'm sure many of you can relate. It's something I know I'm (almost?!) ready to work through.
Anyway, in that moment I was triggered by the price tag, I totally stopped breathing!
My body was having an emotional reaction (lump in throat, tightening in chest, panicky feeling) that caused me to stop the breath, cut off from my body, and immediately hunt down my husband and have a reaction that was WAY out of proportion to the reality of the situation.
I basically created a psycho-scene I had to later apologize for. (Whoopsie!)
In our marriage, we call that SPRAYING. Like a skunk, I sprayed my stinky reaction on him.
Granted, there won't be any more $17 lunch meat incidents, because even he agreed it was excessive given our food budget, but had I taken a breath, the afternoon could have looked so much different.
Because the drama didn't end there. I carried that feeling with me into the next few hours, unable to shake the fear, anger, and negativity I was holding in my body and spraying onto every other exchange in my day.
It wasn't really conscious but it infected:
- My connectedness with my big kid (I became bossy and controlling)
- My energy to get things done (I became drained and negative)
- My nurturing of the baby (I went to impatient and bored)
Within a few hours I felt legitimately depressed. And the day had started off so beautifully!
Um, hello, LUNCHMEAT TAILSPIN much?!
Do you have some version of this? It might be more subtle.
It might happen after a meeting with your boss, as a response to your kid being picky about dinner, as a mood you can't shake after you talk to an in-law, or even just after trying to cook in a crowded or messy kitchen.
Try noticing whats happening in your body when your energy completely flips and you are triggered.
We talk about this a lot in The New School Kitchen. Just the simple act of noticing whats going on is a powerful first step, and small shifts often follow rather organically when we bring our awareness and breath to the situation.
After you are triggered, what happens? Are you irritated and spiky? Huffy and slamming things around? Weepy and shrinking? Withdrawn and victim-y?
When you stop breathing and you are all reacting-like-crazy, you are not actually in your body. You are in your head making up stories and riding around on your emotions, completely flailing and starved for oxygen.
Take a breath. (Or 20?!) It will put you back in your body!
One of the best ways you can get better at this act of noticing, engaging in the breath and inhabiting your body is to practice mindfulness. Once I started dabbling in more mindfulness, my awareness completely shifted. Especially around my breath!
It's clearer to me when I'm triggered, and I can (most days) stop, take a breath, drop into the present, breathe again, feel what I'm feeling, breathe even deeper, and really look at the situation in front of me instead of the story I'm creating in my head.
You want some of this action? (You do. Trust me. It's way better when everything isn't so damn jacked-up and nutty!) Just start getting in the present. Start breathing!
Here are 3 of my favorite resources to help you do just that.
- Headspace. This nifty little app (with its free 10 day trial) taught me so much about mindfullness! Doing even just the free trial is so worth it. Plus, the guy has this silky smooth Austrailian voice that's not bad on the ears at all.
- This Adorable Monk. In less than 2 minutes he so perfectly explains why we shouldn't try to silence the head chatter we all hear when trying to get quiet, and instead use this simple direction to train your monkey mind.
- Bell Meditation. This short but simple video helps me get grounded in just 5 minutes.
How do you keep yourself from having your own lunch meat tailspin?
Talk to me! I still need ideas. As I'm sitting over here breathing. (And not thinking about the cost of the 3 rotten avocados I just found in the bottom of the produce drawer I totally forgot about.)
PS: For those of you who could give a rats-ass about mindfullness, and for everyone really, may I present a totally relevant favorite snack? The Sandwich Taco!