You’re stuck in traffic. You’re in serious debt. You always feel like there’s too little time and too much to do. Your home life is chaotic and your work life is overwhelming. Your family is overbearing. And your best friend just moved across the country.
Bad mood? We’ve all been there.
Psychotherapists are full of ideas for how to improve it — go outside, play your favorite song, hit a pillow, assume control, ride it out. But there’s something that’s simpler and easier than all of these things. You don’t need to go anywhere, find anything or wait for it to pass.
All you have to do is change your breathing.
Ninety percent of us suffer from breathing problems. We breathe too shallowly. We breathe through our mouth. We breathe only with our chest and not our diaphragm. We hold our breath during difficult moments. We hyperventilate.
And it’s this type of breathing that keeps us locked in a “fight or flight” mentality. It keeps us stressed, tired, unmotivated, depressed, anxious, forgetful and unhealthy. It keeps us feeling like we’re never quite where we’d like to be. When we are breathing rapidly and shallowly, through our mouths and only engaging the upper part of our chests, we are operating in the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it stimulates and “locks in” stress. Every time we hold our breath or breathe labored and intermittently, due to a negative emotion or situation, we lock that stress into our body and mind. This conditions the body to engage in this fight or flight behavior. It also activates our adrenal glands and builds tension in our physical body.
Smooth, steady, even breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and teaches the body to lock in relaxation. Taking smooth, deep breaths increases Qi (“chee” or life force energy), health, stamina, mental clarity and the ability to relax.
Obviously, it will be helpful to engage in plenty of relaxing activities that will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, because operating in this system the majority of time is the key to optimum health.
The more we can find ourselves in the space of “resting” rather than “fighting,” we will discover that the benefits are astronomical and sometimes subtle. In this space, moods are elevated, the immune system is stronger, cortisol levels are decreased and physical and psychological well-being are increased.
We live in a society where we are praised and rewarded for hard work and struggle. It is evident in simple, well-known phrases, such as “no pain, no gain” and “nothing worth having is easy.” Because of this mentality, millions of us are stressed out and overworked in jobs we don’t love. We replace our dreams with the “security” of a steady paycheck. We look for big challenges and chases, while forgetting the most basic and fundamental necessity we need to function properly — abundant breathing. We often fail to see the peaceful and easy road as an option at all.
Several years ago, I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. At the time, it was 2,173 miles and took me five and a half months to complete. It is a stunningly gorgeous trail, as well as a perfect example of hard work and struggle. As a former competitive long distance runner, I was always looking for a great physical, and ultimately mental and emotional, challenge. While hiking, I was in heaven because I found difficult challenges daily, like dealing with bad weather, water sources running dry and hilly or rocky terrain.
I thrived on these daily tests, and I didn’t have to look far for them on the Appalachian Trail. The trail itself is ridiculously difficult. If Native Americans or early pioneers had wanted to migrate from Georgia to Maine, they would have taken an easier and more direct route and stayed closer to the rivers and lakes. They certainly would not go up and down the same side of mountains, nor would they find the most rocky or difficult route. Because our society has become familiarized with hard work and struggle, the trail has become more and more difficult in the last fifty years.
This is a perfect example of how we live our lives. How many of our own “Appalachian Trails” do we create in our lives? How much easier can we make our walk in life? And how much better off would we be if we draw awareness to our breathing and utilize it to its full potential?
Take a few minutes today and try Qi Breathing. Get rid of a bad mood — or whatever else you’re struggling with– by simply changing your breathing.