Looking for a solution to stress? Don’t hold your breath #CoronavirusSA
by Stuart Stobbs (@bigbrownbear) You’re breathing wrong — and it’s making you uptight. No, no — that comes with the job, you say; I’m in advertising. OK, take a deep breath in. Did your chest move up and did you feel like you were growing slightly taller? Then you’re doing it wrong. But don’t feel bad; we all are.
Power of breath control
My interest in breathing (beyond basic living) started in my first year of varsity when my acting lecturer said he was going to teach us how to breathe through our sphincter. Yes, you read right. Turns out he lied; gas only goes one way. But the exercise he taught introduced me to the power of breath control and all the mechanisms of breathing, especially the most-neglected and -important one: the diaphragm. Most of us breathe using our chest and lungs only, which results in shallow, insipid breaths.
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Fast-forward through 20-something years of singing lessons, yoga classes and meditation sessions to when I reached breathing enlightenment in India. It’s kinda ironic it happened there because Indian air pollution is normally so bad, it makes normal breathing tough. Then again, I was in the forested hills of the birthplace of yoga, Rishikesh, overlooking the mystical, powdery-blue waters of the holy Ganges River, with the snow-peaked Himalayas in the distance. I also say “enlightenment” for dramatic effect; I am, in reality, some lifetimes away from any kind of guru status.
The yogic tradition has a massive range of breathing exercises called Prananyama. “Prana” is the concept of lifeforce or energy that runs through everything, including inanimate objects and the air round us. “Prananyama” means to extend your lifeforce or increase this energy. Whatever your belief system, I’ve definitely found that these breathing exercises have the power to make you more calm, focused, energised or even put you to sleep.
So, where to start? It begins with focusing less on using your chest and lungs and more on using your stomach and diaphragm (think breathing from your sphincter). Each breath should push your stomach out and then back in again because that’s what’s gonna draw in more oxygen, more Prana, than the shallow breaths you currently employ. Here’s a great “how to” video link by clinical psychologist, Dr Belisa Vranich.
Then, the exercises themselves. There are tons of them but you can start with the simple ones and enjoy the benefits immediately. They almost always involve counting but don’t worry, creatives, it’s mostly so basic even we can do it.
I have included a second video below (an awesome TEDx talk by Lucas Rockwell) which will teach you three exercises: one to reduce anxiety and stress, one to help you sleep and one to “give you wings” without having to down an energy drink. And, if that doesn’t interest you, I should tell you that one involves whiskey.
Some benefits are immediate but, as with most things in life, if you really want to get the most out of it, you should do these exercises consistently and regularly. If you do, they can vastly reduce the stress of a screaming client, creative director or deadline, give you the focus you need during lockdown or give you that much-needed night of sleep without having to reach for the pills.
A different life is literally a breath (or two) away.
Stuart Stobbs (@bigbrownbear) is chief creator of McCann1886, part of Nahana Communications Group. He specialises in creative thinking, innovation, purpose-led work, advertising, design, digital, copywriting and strategy.
This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.