Since I started thinking about this post yesterday, I've had a perfect opportunity to test this out today, and can absolutely swear that it works!
If, like me, you ever find yourself too stressed or too busy to sit down and meditate, you can still calm your mind and your body using this insanely simple technique. I discovered it in Dr Andrew Weil's audiobook, "Breathing: The Master Key to Self-Healing", which has a whole toolkit of breathing techniques. But the one I'm playing with this week is, in my opinion, the simplest and most powerful.
Dr Weil calls it "Making your breath quieter, slower, deeper and more regular". Mmm, needs a catchier name perhaps. I'll call it the breathing magic trick.
All you do is exactly what it says. Sitting in the comfortable position of your choice - it's probably best with a straight but relaxed spine, but let's not get too hung up on that - you simply slow down your breaths, making each one a bit longer, a bit deeper, a bit quieter. Continue for as long as it's enjoyable. It doesn't matter what your mind does while you're doing this; it's a body-based practice. It's not even meditation, if that's a word that freaks you out. But it does have an amazing effect on your body, and then a knock-on effect on your mind. Try it and see what I mean!
To really have fun with this, I combined it with something I picked up in a course recently, which suggested aiming to slow your breaths to 4 per minute. That's 4 inhalations and 4 exhalations. It sounded a bit extreme at the time, but I tried it and it really isn't. I simply look at the second hand on my watch as I breathe in quietly, slowly and deeply for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 seconds ... pause for 2 seconds, breathe out for 6 seconds, pause for 2. Before you know it, you're breathing at 4 breaths a minute. Apparently doing this regularly calms the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-and-flight response. So it helps to combat stress, adrenal fatigue and inflammation.
I don't know if that's true, but I do know that when I tried this today, in the midst of a stressful day involving a funeral, a 6 hour train journey and the London Underground at rush hour, it instantly calmed me down and kept me calm. And I was able to continue breathing slowly and calmly even while negotiating a path through the commuters in the tube station.
There's definitely something magic about this breathing business. I think I'm going to be hooked. I can think of worse addictions to have!