Or, The Art of Brain Control
The newest gateway drug has hit the streets. It’s called air, and it’s gonna totally blow your mind. The drug-like benefits of breathing might be a well known routine for many of you, but for me it’s brand-spanking-new in my repertoire of skills. It’s a little piece of happiness I’ve found in my life that has gone a long way; the kind of happy that comes from getting that nemesis called my brain to shut the hell up and let me live in peace!
One of the daily hurdles of life is dealing with stress or anxiety, whether it’s at the end of the day in an empty house, or when you’re about to stand in front of a lot of people to say something important. And though it was normal in the 50’s, it’s now considered a faux pas to keep a flask in-pocket. It will also give you liver disease at the ripe age of 30. So what are you expected to do, use medical marijuana and pornography to relieve that tension? Firstly, who wants to get more hungry for carbs and candy? Secondly, maybe. But thirdly, there are better more practical methods that give you the power to control your brain at will. It’s the newest thing in self-medication: sedation through breath and gravity.
Yes war with ones’ own brain is hard won, because despite what you want, your scarred-in “knowledge” as your brain would call it, regurgitates old fears and falsities, keeping you trapped inside whatever you are striving to overcome. When you decide “I have nothing to be scared about, why am I hyperventilating?” your brain will tell you “Everything is terrible and you also caused global warming!” and then seal this belief with concrete to make sure you never unearth its root. Well, by controlling your brain through willful action and breaking a habit like feeling anxious or drinking too many glasses of wine when you said you weren’t going to, is like realizing you’ve been in the same room all your life and you just saw the door that’s been behind you the whole time.
I am not a professional in any of this stuff, so I will simply explain these exercises as I use them— partly for peeps like me who have always hated the idea of meditation and scoffed at the possibility of doing it. And take it from someone who doesn’t go to church, has never felt comfortable alone, and has long-suffered from PTSD, this works y’all.
The key is to focus. Your breathing should feel like you’re performing a ballet, meaning with perfect smooth intention. The goal is to get your breath to be measured and even, so you really have to pay attention to how it sounds. The basic brain-calming even breathing is phonetically called OO-JA-EE. It’s the “tone-the-back-of-your-throat” kind that makes it sound like you’re pretending to be an old witch on her death bed, and the scene requires letting everyone know you don’t have long (That might be totally lost on just about everyone). You also have to keep your mouth closed. This helps when you just want to get into a focused mode to shut off your brain. It also helps to do this in downward dog, but sometimes that’s not enough to stop the all-mighty voices in your head.
One bead per breath
Here’s one way to take this one step further. Grab a beaded bracelet, I say anything that has a clasp and nice chunky beads. You remember those smooth round Buddhist-style ones that everyone gave as presents back in the late ‘90’s? Not sure if you saved any but if you did, grab one of those. Otherwise just try to find one that has a clasp or a unique bead so you can tell where you are on the chain with your eyes are closed. Please excuse my drawings… I can’t draw hands.
Now that you have your beads, sit comfortably with your eyes closed, maybe on top of a squishy cushion, and hold the beads in the hand you write with. Hold onto that one bead or clasp that is unique. Close your eyes and begin to take deep, even Oo-ja-ee breaths, and for every full breath in and out, push one of the beads through the grasp of your fingers. Do this for one full round of the bracelet til you return to the first bead, and check how long it has been. If it’s been about 4 minutes then you’ve found a good bracelet. If it’s been less, then try going around it twice. Remember to make your breath and smooth and steady as possible – listen to it. It should get you to a place where you can hear your breath and nothing else. It will also give you a post-massage relaxed feeling depending on how long you do it. I know what you’re thinking, “Sarah, I don’t work in the park, how do I do this in my office without looking like I’ve had a mental break?” Here’s another one.
Sit comfortably and sit up straight, and start that Oo-ja-ee breathing. Now hold your right hand in a hang-loose position, palm facing your face. You’re going to be pushing your thumb to your right nostril and your pinky to your left, one at a time. So close your eyes and press your right nostril in. Breath all the way in through just your left nostril, then plug that nostril with your pinky. Now breath all the way out through your right nostril- wait that’s not all! Now breath all the way in through that same nostril. NOW plug it with your thumb and breath out through the left again. Now when you’re emptied of air, breath in through your left nostril, then plug it. And repeat. You might freak out at first and feel like you’re going to suffocate, but stick with it. You’ll get to the right pace and you’ll have plenty of oxygen. Try and take 20 full breaths, meaning an inhale and an exhale. It should give you some relief. If it doesn’t, what I do is keep going until it does. Sometimes that requires me telling my brain to shut up, repeatedly.
If you’re into the breathing and you feel like you could use some help staying out of the dark cloud that follows you around, try spending some time upside down. You can do this in any number of ways, whether you’re hanging off the edge of your bed, in a full hand stand, or just in downward dog. Sending blood to your brain helps reduce depression and as an added bonus it also helps to speed up your metabolism. Taking the weight of gravity off of your thyroid for a few minutes a day can actually serve as a natural thyroid medication. And while you’re there, don’t forget to breath. I will confess I like to do this at random times and places because it makes me feel like I have a special secret weapon. And it’s just fun to see the world upside down.
If you’re one of those people that gets anxious at the end of the day, after the traffic and after the meetings, then you might benefit from twisting poses. I’ve been told it’s because of the blood that comes to rest in your liver, so twisting helps to circulate it again. Try lying on the ground and posing like a twisted action-figure: facing your legs and hips toward one side of the room, and your upper body and head toward the other side. Then switch.
Cook that chicken
One thing I’ve learned from breathing exercises is that really investing in a thought process goes a long way. Another cool application I’ve found is with public speaking. If I’m about to stand up in front of a large group of people and I’m beginning to panic, I immediately say to myself, “Okay, you’ve gotta cook this chicken. Now!” What I mean is, I tell myself I have to start preparing a roast chicken immediately, then I go through in real time (in my head) the actions involved in preparing a roast chicken. I get the chicken out of the fridge, wash it off, throw the icky stuff inside in the garbage, was my hands, then turn on the oven to 425 and get out the Le Creuset skillet. Then I make sure I have a lemon, a head of garlic, a big bunch of thyme, (yep, that’s Ina Garten’s ‘Perfect Roast Chicken’ recipe) and so on. As soon as I start to go back to the present and freak out, I think really really hard about my chicken. It takes a lot of aggressive focus but it works. If you don’t cook, try something like your exercise routine, or packing a suitcase for a weekend trip. You get the idea. And, if you’re interested here’s Ina Garten’s Perfect Roast Chicken Recipe on Youtube.