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mental health productivity

We often want to achieve a lot while doing very little work, and this usually happens by looking for some shortcuts. Though I’m not a fan of shortcuts, as there are rarely any shortcuts to success, what I’m going to discuss today is an exception. There is indeed a scientifically verified shortcut that will help you to achieve instant calmness and which will increase your energy. This hack will also optimise your health. So, what’s that shortcut? Taking some simple breaths!

There’s something that you can’t live without. Yes, you may last for weeks without food, days without water, but what you truly can’t live without is oxygen. You can only last a few minutes without oxygen. However, humans rarely appreciate this automatic act. Breathing is taken for granted and that’s why we hardly ever stop to think about the importance of it.

If you’ve been reading my articles, you know that I often talk about four fundamentals for a Lean & Healthy life; these fundamentals are praying, eating, moving and sleeping. Nevertheless, knowing what I know now, breathing is definitely on top of my list.

So, get ready to discover the most undervalued, underappreciated fundamental of all fundamentals: breathing!

Oxygen = Cell fuel

“What if I said I had a medicine that would keep you calm but alert? That would relax and energize you? That would help you recover, boost your immune system, lower the oxidative stress that causes ageing, power you up, and fuel every cell in your body, from your frazzled brain to your taxed muscles? You’d say, ‘Give it to me,’ right? Well, here it is. And no side effects. Take it every day—doctor’s orders” (Vranich, 01).

Dr Belisa Vranich, a leading clinical psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts on how to breathe talks about the importance of breathing in her ground-breaking book Breathe!

In her book, Vranich emphasizes that oxygen equals cell fuel.  Quoting Dr Arthur Guyon’s research, Vranich writes, “all chronic pain, suffering, and disease are caused by a lack of oxygen at the cell level . . . Proper breathing nourishes the cells of the body with oxygen, and optimizes the functioning of the body on all levels” 

The importance of oxygen stretches far beyond your imagination. Take your brain for instance. Your brain utilizes 20% of the oxygen, you breathe. This means that your productivity, memory power, decision-making ability and mental health all depend highly on the oxygen you inhale.

Let that sink in for a minute.

So, if you’re not breathing properly you’re simply not performing optimally. Full stop.

So, finding it difficult to focus? Breathe properly. Finding it difficult to make a decision? Breathe properly. Feeling anxious and stressed out? Breathe properly. Annoyed with a loved one? Breathe properly.

Does breathing properly sounds like a panacea? To some extent it is! Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what Dr Kelly McGonigal says in her book, The Willpower Instinct:

“You won’t find many quick fixes in this book, but there is one way to immediately boost willpower: Slow your breathing down to four to six breaths per minute. That’s ten to fifteen seconds per breath—slower than you normally breathe, but not difficult with a little bit of practice and patience. Slowing the breath down activates the prefrontal cortex and increases heart rate variability, which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control mode. A few minutes of this technique will make you feel calm, in control, and capable of handling cravings or challenges”.

The Art of Slow Breathing

Now, science is unequivocal about this. If you want to breathe properly, breathe less! Yes, just like overeating is unhealthy for you, over breathing is unhealthy for you too.

My job as a coach is to simplify the science so that you can take immediate action. Here are three simple rules to remember to breathe less.

Rule #1: Breathe through your nose

Now, this may sound obvious, but the fact is most people, unbeknownst to them, inhale through their mouth. Breathing through your mouth, in general, is bad for you (except for when you’re running hard from a dog chasing you. 

According to Dr Vranich, “Mouth breathing can also disrupt the pH balance of the blood, making it too alkaline. Alkalosis can lead to feelings of apprehension, anxiety, and chronic pain conditions.

Nose breathing, on the other hand, has its own benefits, including increases of CO2 saturation in the blood, which creates a calming effect”.

So, what’s the easiest way to breathe through your nose? Keep your mouth shut.

Allah (SWT)created your mouth to eat and talk and your nose to breathe and smell. And there is wisdom in each of Allah’s creations. Science now says that when you breathe through your nose, the air you inhale will be filtered and humidified. This means that there are fewer chances for harmful pathogens to enter your body.

Rule #2: Breathe into your belly

When you take deep breaths through your nose, you’ll eventually breathe into your belly. Here is a simple way to check whether or not you are breathing into your ageing. Keep your right hand on the belly and take a deep breath through your nose (while keeping your mouth shut). Is your belly expanding while breathing? If the answer is yes, then you’re doing it right.

Check out this video from Dr Vranich on the correct way to breathe in.

Rule #3: Exhale slightly longer than you inhale

When you exhale slightly longer than you inhale, you are, in fact, turning on your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you to relax.

But exhaling has another extremely important function. Your exhaling is responsible for 70% of your body’s detoxification! That’s right if you are not correctly exhaling, you are not detoxifying correctly. Squeezing the air out of your diaphragm also means that you’re detoxifying your body. Subhanallah, what an inexpensive way to detoxify!

5+2+7 = Magic

Now here is a simple way to implement all these three rules easily.

What do 5, 2 and 7 stand for? They stand for seconds.

  1. Inhale for 5 seconds (obviously through your nose),
  2. Hold your breath for 2 seconds and
  3. Exhale (again through your nose) for 7 seconds
  4. Repeat these steps 5 times

The instant calm and increased energy I talked about just achieved through this simple exercise. All it takes is just a minute; you can do this anywhere and anytime you like.

Here is how I use it:

  • Just after waking up
  • Before going to sleep
  • Before my nap
  • Before I start to write
  • Before I start to do any productive work
  • When I feel annoyed
  • When I find it difficult to focus
  • When I feel anxious and stressed out
  • When my kids push me to my limits 

As you see, you can use this simple technique in many areas throughout your day. The more you use it, the better you become at this technique and the better you’ll feel throughout your day, bi’idnillah!

Increase Your Gains Exponentially

If you want to increase your gains exponentially, do this breathing technique along with sending Salawath upon the Prophet Muhammed (SAW).

Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) saying: “Whoever supplicates Allah to exalt my mention (i.e., send salah), Allah will exalt his mention (i.e., send salah) ten times and remove from him ten sins and raise him ten degrees.” (Muslim)

Just imagine what will truly happen to you when Allah Himself sends blessings upon you.

Something to Reflect

Recently, I was in a high-stakes meeting. Just before the meeting, I was very nervous, so I decided to make this breathing technique and eventually spent time sending Salawath to the Prophet Muhammed (SAW).

After the meeting, one of the high-ranking officers asked me how I managed to be so calm despite being scrutinized by four people with endless questions. My answer was just a smile; I didn’t want to explain to him what I had prepared beforehand. 

My point in sharing this story is that you can always do an act that’s beneficial to you, a good deed by incorporating aspects of the Deen. So the next time you feel stressed out or tired, remember the steps that I mentioned and try the breathing exercise. It will definitely change your mood.

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