Are you happy?
If not, then this post is for you! (Even if you are, this could help you stay happy!)
Here is a quick and simple exercise that you can incorporate into your life to bring yourself more balance! Each of these “Happiness Hacks” will take you through a short exercise or concept that you can implement in your life in ten minutes or less to help you take control of an area in your life. The first “Happiness Hack” I want to discuss is breathing.
As an on and off brass player, I have learned how to develop good breathing form and how important it is to practice breathing. If we don’t have enough air, we collapse! Seriously.
There are many different ways to breathe, but few ways to breathe well. Having the right breathing patterns can have significant benefits for your health. It can also help you exercise more efficiently. After all, our brains and other organs all rely on blood oxygenation. Learning how to effectively circulate oxygen throughout your body will help you to think more clearly and function at a higher physical and emotional level.
Let’s start with breathing posture. How often do you actively think about how you are breathing? My guess is not very often.
Actively thinking about how to breathe properly is the first step to good breathing. With enough conscious practice, proper breathing will become second nature to you. Imagine what it would be like to breathe correctly without a second thought!
Let’s practice right now. This will work whether you are sitting or standing. To start, become aware of your surroundings. Where are you? Who else is near you? How are you supporting yourself against the pull of the earth? Where do you feel most supported in your body?
Focus on the part of yourself that is providing stability and support. Every force has an equal and opposite force. Mentally hone in on the part of your body that is actively opposing the downward pull of gravity. Feel the support that it gives you. No matter how much you press down or feel weighted down, those bones (either your feet or tailbone) are supporting you against the earth.
Now use those bones to anchor yourself to the earth while lifting your head and shoulders to the sky. Remember that you are always rooted to the ground. Position your shoulders so that they are directly above your support, your center. Lift your head so that your eyes look exactly straight ahead.
Now take a breath.
Where did that air go? Did it make your chest puff outward? Or did it make your diaphragm push up against the bottom of your rib cage, expanding your stomach? Make a mental note and intentionally take large breaths, moving the air into each of these places. Take a breath and consciously move that air down into your chest and notice as it expands. Now, take another breath and focus that air down even further into your stomach, again observing as this part of your body swells with air.
When we take shallow breaths, we are halting our flow of air in our chests, not allowing it to reach its final destination in our abdomen. When breathing like this, your breathing may often feel faster and fairly agitated. Oftentimes, this is how we breathe when we are feeling anxious or afraid. To center yourself, this is not where you want to breathe! When you take these shallow breaths, all of the oxygen in the air you took in does not have enough time to get absorbed into your blood stream.
WARNING: Science coming up!
In a nutshell, your heart and organs need oxygen to survive. When you take in air, you fill your lungs with oxygen. Your lungs are filled with tiny blood vessels that allow oxygen to enter the bloodstream. This oxygenated blood travels to the heart and gets pumped through your body to every other organ. Those organs use up all of the oxygen and replace it with carbon dioxide and other biological waste. The now deoxygenated blood gets pumped back to the lungs through the other side of the heart to empty its waste and pick up oxygen from your next breath. For a more detailed description of how oxygen circulates in your body, see here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279250/.
Since it takes time for your blood to take in oxygen, the better your breathing, the healthier you will be. So, when you take deeper and fuller breaths, you take in more oxygen and allow more time for your blood to absorb it. It’ s a win-win!
To breathe deeply, move all of your breaths into your gut. Feel your stomach expand and relax as you consciously breathe in and out. Feel your rib cage rise and fall more and more with every breath. This type of breathing is what you want if you desire to feel more centered or grounded.
Continue this pattern, taking breaths in through your nose. If you feel dizzy, congratulations! You are finally taking in full, deep breaths consistently. Feel your body strengthen with more air. Feel your body take control.
Actively controlling your breathing allows you to consciously take control of your body. All parts of our bodies work together to maintain, live and thrive. Maximizing parts of your biological cycles can simply speed up your biofeedback loops and help you achieve a healthier lifestyle faster.
Take a couple minutes to let this breathing pattern sink in. Notice how you are still rooted to the ground and how it feels to live more freely and supported. The final step in developing good breathing form is practice. The more you practice, the easier it will be to control your breathing patterns.
There are many exercises that you can do to advance your deep-breathing skills. A simple one is to use a stopwatch and breathe in for four seconds and out for four seconds. As you breathe in, visualize the air filling every possible space it can in your body. When you exhale, make sure that you force all of the carbon dioxide out. When you master four seconds, try increasing the time of inhale and exhale to eight, twelve, sixteen, and so on.
Another simple and fun exercise is to inhale as fully as you possibly can through your nose. When you are absolutely full, hold your breath for about five seconds. Now, sip air in through your mouth four times, adding even more air. Then, slowly let it all out, pushing more the less air you have (push harder as your air supply decreases). When you have absolutely no more air, hold for two seconds, then relax and feel the power of your diaphragm as it forcefully intakes air. This exercise will likely make you dizzy if you do it more than once.
For more breathing exercises, check out The Breathing Gym: https://www.dansr.com/wick/resources/the-breathing-gym. Two tubists started a business around teaching people how to breathe properly for brass instruments. Their exercises apply to anybody. They also have a YouTube channel so you can follow along as they do them too.
Now, start taking control of your life and practice deep breathing. It will allow you to center in on the supports in your life and help you refocus your thoughts to promote emotional well-being and enhanced physical posture. For example, whenever you begin to feel anxious or afraid, notice these emotions and notice your breathing pattern. Make the conscious effort to re-direct this airflow from your chest (shallow breathing) to your stomach (deep breathing) and notice how this impacts your emotional state. The more you practice now, the easier it will be to apply it to every breath you ever take.
The next “Happiness Hack” will be Meditation. Stay tuned!