Who knew the simple act of sitting quietly, focusing on breathing through the nose and out the mouth, and oxygenating the body could make such a world of difference? Looking back at the countless times I’ve used this very technique over the first half of 2020, I am confident incorporating daily mindfulness and breathing exercises helped me navigate these troubling times in a healthier manner. I am eager to share with veterinary teams what I learned so they, too, can find peace each day within a matter of minutes.
Committing to the easiest option
At the end of February 2020, I attended an online session presented by “Next Level Coaches.” (Yes, coaches engage and use the services of other coaches.) The team leading the session served to ground my quarantine experience and kept me connected to the world outside my small house from the early days of the COVID crisis through June.
As I read through the homework assignments, I chose the weekday meditation and breathing exercises as my focus. The commitment to do yoga seemed the wrong fit for me, but I felt could handle 10 minutes of simply breathing. I already do that anyway, right? Plus, the online exercise begins at 9:30 a.m. MST, which worked nicely into my work schedule, as I normally break for my morning meal at this time.
I made it as painless as possible for myself. I took the road of least resistance by choosing what I thought would be an easy devotion of time and not too challenging a task, which is precisely the point. By selecting something that was straightforward for me and only took a short amount of time a day, I was able to commit to it on a regular basis. The result was it settled my thoughts, chilled my senses, and put my mind at peace during this tumultuous time in history.
Meeting via Zoom with James, his team, and other coaches connected me to the world of inner peace and literally to others around the world. I simply pushed the “Attend” button, listened to the incredible music, allowed my breathing to follow the instructions given, and boom… transformation to a gentler, quieter, reflective moment. And the way I was breathing was oxygenating the creative part of my brain. Way cool! It’s a lovely, easy gift to give and receive.
Not an entirely new way of living
I was raised reading Mother Earth News in the 1970s, so the concepts of meditation and mindfulness (a form of meditation) were by no means new to me. However, I had never formalized or routinely practiced them. That’s all changed—I now consider “active mindfulness” something I can embrace to benefit my active lifestyle.
Looking back at when I was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer in 2016, I listened regularly to guided meditations to ease stress and connect to my body’s ability to love and heal. That simply felt like the right thing to do. I experienced tranquility while I visualized every cell in my body regenerating and healing. I felt I was supporting my body, mind, and spirit at that time.
I am sure many of you reading this article have “dabbled,” too. Instead of meditation, you may have set aside time for prayer, practicing yoga, or some other form of inner reflection.
While dabbling off and on helped me realize what type of meditation worked for me, I recently decided I needed to do it daily, even if for just 10 minutes.
I use a meditation app and it’s been a game changer for me. My sleep has improved and I am definitely less stressed and anxious than before.
What is conscious breathing?
“In essentially every spiritual tradition, to achieve deeper states of prayer, meditation, and contemplation, slowing breathing techniques are used,” says Al Lee, coauthor of Perfect Breathing.1
After my first breathing exercise session with Next Level Coaches, I was very curious as to the concepts they were trying to impart. So began my Google search, leading me to gamma and deep breathing, both being forms of conscious breathing.
The best way to describe conscious breathing is to be fully present in the moment, concentrating on your breath in your body, feeling it flow into your abdomen, filling your chest, and oxygenating your head. Another way to think about it is to consider your body as a big balloon. The breath starts filling your belly, travels through your lungs, and then pushes into your brain.
Sitting in a quiet space and visualizing your body oxygenating in this manner brings it to your consciousness. Otherwise, it is just simply air, in and out, a sustenance of life that is taken for granted.
A closer look at breathing techniques
There are different ways to breathe intentionally. Most people breathe approximately 14 times a minute, which equates to 140 times in 10 minutes. Consider doing it with conscious awareness a few times a week, or even daily, to reap the benefits. Here are three options I found intriguing, although there are many more:
1) Equal breathing: Choose a comfortable seated position, breathe in and out through your nose, count each inhalation and exhalation equally with a natural pause between (inhale for a count of five, hold, exhale for a count of five).
2) Belly (diaphragmatic) breathing: Lie on your back, placing one hand on your upper chest and the other one below your rib cage, allowing you to feel the movement of your belly. Slowly inhale though your nose, feeling your stomach press into your hand, and exhale fully through your pursed lips as you tighten your stomach muscles.
3) Gamma breathing: Get into a comfortable position (whether seated or lying down) and take in 30 deep (belly) breaths at a steady pace (it’s perfectly normal to feel tingling sensations in your body). Breathe the next 10 breaths fully into your belly, hold the breath for as long as comfortable, exhale slowly and fully. Lastly, take in 30 relaxed, steady breaths.
I encourage you to continue your own research and inquiries to find the practice that works best for you.
The benefits of conscious breathing
Commenting on one of my Instagram posts about the benefits of conscious breathing, one veterinary team member wrote, “When I breathe deeply several times, it slows my heart rate, taking me out of a fight-flight state and into a place where I have more mental capacity.” This is music to my ears.
The research on the benefits of conscious breathing is adding up. Here is a short list, but it is clear 10 minutes of controlled, intentional breathing is good for you:2
1) Oxygenation and release of carbon dioxide
2) Self-focus, self-control
3) Relaxation and peace (parasympathetic state)
4) Reduction in cortisol
5) Activation of the lymphatic system
6) Enhancement of circulation and digestion
7) Pain-relieving effects
8) Calming your emotions
What is mindfulness?
It is normal for your mind to wander during meditation or other similar exercises. While being mindful, even during an intentional breathing exercise, recognize your mind will wander to your to-do list, what to fix for dinner, or a friend’s most recent Facebook post. This is what minds do. In that moment, acknowledge the thought, let it go, and bring your focus back to your breathing. Repeat again when your to-do list pops into your head. And again… as many times as needed, without judgment. Just acknowledge the thought and then focus once more on your breathing.
Combine the two: Mindful breathing
I find the magic is in combining the two: mindfulness and breathing. What a great space to be in. Whether sitting in a quiet place and choosing a breathing technique that works for me that day, or listening to a guided meditation or being in a group session with other like-minded individuals, I have learned to embrace the benefits of quieting, centering, grounding, feeling, releasing, and being in the breath.
The moral of this long-winded story (pun intended) is to find your calm in the midst of your workday. Find something straightforward and comfortable for you—it can be as simple as doing mindful breathing during your break time. There is no equipment needed, no cost, and you can tap into the incredible benefits within seconds, anytime and anywhere.
Join us and other veterinary professionals every weekday morning at 7:30 a.m. MST at www.CATALYSTVetPC.com/mindfulness-gratitude for mindfulness and gratitude sessions, where we tap into the connection of conscious breath and being mindful.
Rebecca Rose, CVT, certified career coach, founder, and president at CATALYST Veterinary Professional Coaches, has a diverse background in the veterinary community. She has worked in and managed clinics, collaborates with industry partners, and facilitates engaging team workshops. Rose’s enthusiasm for professional development in veterinary medicine is contagious, as she encourages and supports veterinary teams in reaching their highest potential. She can be reached via getCATALYST@CATALYSTVetPC.com.
1 Perfect Breathing; Transform your life one breath at a time, Al Lee & Don Campbell, January 2009
2 Relaxation Techniques; Breath control helps quell errant stress response, Harvard Health Publishing, bit.ly/32cTUEd