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Mindful : October 2019
As a result, many of us spend a good part of our day in low to high fight-or- flight mode. That can play havoc with our nervous system, our digestion, our blood pressure—not to mention our ability to get a good night’s sleep. The key to preventing this from happening, according to Vranich, is to learn to breathe the way we were designed—horizontally, expanding the belly outward on the inhale and narrowing it on the exhale, which engages the diaphragm and other breathing muscles in the process. The most common breathing techniques focus on counting breaths and inhal- ing and exhaling according to fixed patterns. There’s nothing wrong with that, said Vranich, “but most people don’t have much success doing that because their diaphragms are in spasm. They’ve been bracing so long their diaphragms don’t stretch any- more. So, I show them how to unlock their diaphragms and they start feel- ing better immediately.” The Mechanics of the Breath To help me understand and get things rolling, Vranich invited me to take a private class with Alyson Khan, one of her senior teachers in Los Angeles. Khan, a cheerful woman in her thir- ties, watched me take a few breaths and concluded that I had a strong horizontal inhale but an iffy exhale. “ You must be bracing somewhere,” she said. “Bracing” was one of Alyson’s favorite words. In fact, learning to use mindfulness to manage her bracing habit was a key turning point for her. It all started in grade school when her classmates started calling her “Fatty” even though she wasn’t overweight. And soon sucking it in became second nature. “ We live in a culture of gut- suckers,” she quipped. “ What do we do when we walk into a room? We lift our chest up, throw our shoulders back, and suck our gut in, because, God forbid, you don’t want to look chubby. In LA, they might even write you a ticket for that.” Now she finds she often braces when she’s racing to beat a traffic light or navigating a tense social situation or spotting a text from someone she’s trying to avoid. “Bracing is the body’s natural way of protecting itself,” she said. “If you’re not aware of that, you’re going to carry that stress in your body throughout the day, and it will affect how you relate to others.” It wasn’t until she started paying attention to her breathing that things began to change. The key, she said, was being attuned to when she was on the verge of bracing and then asking herself, “Do I really want to be doing that all day?” Next, Alyson showed me how to calculate my Breathing Intelligence Quotient (or BIQ for short), a tool Vranich developed to measure what she calls your “vital lung capacity.” It involves using a measuring tape to determine the expanse of your ribs when you inhale compared with → Take a deep breath “There’s no other animal on the planet that breathes like this. We’re taking this beautiful machine and using it in a way that makes no sense based on how it was designed.” Psychologist Belisa Vranich October 2019 mindful 67 well-being