I Am Breathing

be less stressed Aug 16, 2021


I Am Breathing 

August 16, 2021

I Am Breathing ---

  • 7 deep diaphragmatic breaths;
  • 7 specific times each day;
  • 7 days a week.

This is my Keep It Super Simple, 7x 7x 7  Formula for engaging the Relaxation Response and escaping the Fight or Flight Response. As we know, the Fight or Flight Response is hard-wired and automatic in all of us -- it it triggered in our autonomic nervous system. More importantly, we have a choice -- we can use deep diaphragmatic breathing to take back control. We can train our mind-body to relax. The value in the 7x 7x 7 Formula is that we are training, in a very disciplined way, to know what it feels like to relax our muscles and clear our mind. 

As crazy a ride as 2020 was, this summer of 2021 is an even wilder ride -- at least for me!  I put some major lifestyle changes into motion and then other events with family, friends and pets added to my personal and professional challenges. WOW! I am practicing what I coach in my stress management and life coaching practices. I am deeply grateful to have a robust set of tools to support my focus and present moment awareness. 

Over the past several years I have posted at least 12 times on stress management and shared resources I have found to be valuable. This Blog is both more specific and more personal. I trust you will honor my struggles as I honor yours. I invite you to review and incorporate any ideas that might enhance your sanity and survival skills. 

Step 1 is to create a routine at specific times of the day to take 7 deep breaths. It is natural for me to choose when I first awake, when I go to bed, after lunch and before dinner. Then the challenge is to add 3 more times -- and the natural times for me are before meetings or when I get in the car to run errands. Is the number 7 a magic number? Well, no. Five would work just fine. It is the consistent practice -- the routine -- that is most important. 

What are your specific times in the day to create a breathing routine that works for you? 

Step 2 is to take 7 deep breaths. There is a wide array of breathing techniques to choose from -- and I like variety.  These are the 3 techniques I use the mos.: 

First: Box Breathing. I like this basic technique for the rhythm and the visual. Just like you draw a box with 4 sides, there are 4 phases to breath work:

  1. Breathe in through the nose for a count of 4;
  2. Hold for a count of 4;
  3. Breath out through the mouth for a count of 4;
  4. Hold for a count of 4. 

If you are a visual learner, imagine drawing a straight line up from the lower left hand corner of the box on the inhale, a horizontal line across the top for the hold, a straight line down from top to bottom for the out breath, and then a straight line from right to left for the hold. 

Second, the Relaxing Breath. In this variation, you breathe in quietly on the count of 4 and breath out with a whoosh on the count of 8.  One key is that the exhale must be twice as long as the inhale. Another key is that after you breathe in on the count of 4, make sure you are forceful on the exhale to create a whooshing sound. It is kind of fun -- and this makes sure you are clearing the lungs.

A good 8-minute meditation which teaches this technique is on Insight Timer by Rick Braden, Anxiety & The Vegas Nerve.   

Third, Alternate Nostril Breathing. This is a great breathing exercise to get in the flow, enhance focus and concentration, bring the left and right brain into equilibrium, center, and relax. Here are the steps, using your right hand:

  1. Place your forefinger between your brows and place your thumb to close the right nostril.
  2. Breathe in through the left nostril, then block the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through you right nostril.
  3. Inhale through your right nostril, then block the right nostril with your thumb, and exhale through your left nostril.
  4. Inhale through your left nostril and repeat steps 2 & 3.  

It can take a few minutes to discover the fingers that work best for you. 

A good 8-minute guided meditation on Insight Timer by Larissa Hall Carlson, Alternate Nostril Breathing will provide more detailed instructions. 

All these breathing exercises trigger the relaxation response. Which exercise feels best to you? Or, do you have an other favorite exercise you would like to share? 

In total, we are talking about carving out 15 minutes a day to train your mind-body to know how to relax -- and experience the freedom, the joy, and peace of being relaxed. 

There is both art and science to breath work. 

Let me start with the art, drawing on an inspirational poem by Mary Oliver, "I Am Breathing."  

Breathing just a little
life flows
without thought
of each moment passing
draining into the next
every drop of anticipation
sucked dry
of life's rich bounty
in the unexpected joy
of being alive. 

Breathing together
of all things
I find myself
revelling in every drop
of anticipation
dripping wet in the ripe, rich fruit
of life
into the unexpected joy
of being alive.

Can you feel it? "....dripping wet in the ripe, rich fruit of life flowing effortlessly into the the unexpected joy of being alive." Indeed, the unexpected joy of being alive -- in the moment, in the NOW. 

Now for the science. I invite you to take 2 minutes to listen to Dr. Andrew Weil talk about the extensive benefits of breathing exercises. Dr. Weil is the Founder and Director Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona College of Medicine, and the Jones/Lovell Professor of Integrative Rheumatology, University of Arizona.  

Dr. Weil talks about the benefits of breathing, explains in plain English the science of what it does, and provides an impressive list of examples of patients’ dramatic changes. I love his metaphor: 

“It [breathing] is a practice. I often like to say it is like water cutting the Grand Canyon. It is the constancy of doing it that produces dramatic changes.”   

 Dr. Andrew Weil

I would love to know your key take-aways from this interview with Dr. Weil.

Teaching people about breathing infuses and informs my coaching practice for reducing stress and my high performance coaching, particularly around the habit of Energy.  I have had a lot of fun learning about the benefits of breathing exercises over the past 11 years.

I know it can be challenging to find the 7 times a day to incorporate the habit of doing 7 deep diaphragmatic breaths. Some people start and then stop this practice. I know it is easy to forget and get distracted. That’s OK – just restart. I know -- it has happened to me.

Wishing you a joyous day!  I am breathing. Let us breathe together....


Talk soon,


Alison Lanza Falls


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