I’m a skeptic. I’m not into the latest diet craze, exercise routine, electronic device or trendy clothing designer. I don’t own a purse that costs more than the monthly home mortgage. But I am into science and I love what research continues to teach us about our experiences as human beings. I was skeptical but intrigued when a master level yoga teacher challenged a group of us to take 5 minutes each day to breathe deeply to see if it changed our lives.
The intrigue led me to try it…5 minutes/day of deep breathing for a year. Can’t be that hard, right? Establishing any new habit takes a few starts and stops but eventually I was on my way to doing it. Not only was I skeptical breather, it felt as if my body was a reluctant breather. The first order of business was trying to make my breath smooth using what’s called “ujjayi” breathing (it’s like saying the word “ha” as you inhale and exhale but with your lips closed). I built up slowly to an inhale of 10 seconds and an exhale of 10 seconds. I added a brief pause of 1 second in between the inhale and exhale. I was on my way.
When I did the breathing challenge in the morning, I noticed that my energy level felt steadier through a busy and hectic workday. This was powerful for me because it gave me the strength to kick my afternoon diet Coke habit. It also helped me cut down on “fatigue-snacking”. I also felt more productive and focused at work.
I also felt calmer in the midst of the typical workday stresses. While impatience is one of my defining qualities, I was able to be more patient in all areas of my life.
I noticed that when people were pushing my buttons, I was able to be more present with it without reacting to it. I was able to choose my words and subsequent actions more carefully.
If I had a particularly stressful day at work, I would do another 5 minutes of breathing in the early evening to reduce some of the mental chatter and agitation. The ability to de-stress toward the end of the day was important for overall better sleep.
The breathing challenge yielded important things for me – more energy, greater focus, higher productivity, less stress, better health habits, more patience, speech that was less likely to create more problems and better sleep. Imagine if we could put these results in a pill and sell it over the counter?
The person who provoked me into this breathing challenge became my teacher (Gary Kraftsow) and I continue to learn from him how breath practice can be refined for a variety of health conditions. My work with people for one-on-one therapeutic yoga also continues to refine my understanding of how individualized approaches often yield the best results. Breath practices are particularly helpful for physiological health issues, stress, anxiety, and depression.
I’ve stayed steady with a breathing practice for a long time. I appreciate being provoked into trying it. Are you ready for your own breathing challenge? If you try the 5 minutes/day breathing challenge, I’d love to hear from you about the challenges and the results.
Mary Hilliker is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist who offers individualized yoga therapy, yoga classes, workshops, retreats and yoga teacher training with River Flow Yoga in Wausau, WI.