Finding Balance With Breath
By Casey McFarland
I have enjoyed my first year on the Faculty Assembly Council (FAC), as it has been interesting to see the work the FA has done and continues to do to create balance in our working conditions. The committee meets twice a month to discuss issues related to contracts, bylaws, the constitution, working conditions, reassigned time, schedules, roles, and responsibilities. The committee is comprised of a diverse group of faculty from a variety of disciplines and years of service at MCC. The FA also hosts social gatherings such as the FA Education Luncheon event on March 10th and the FA Soiree 3, on May 12th. The meetings and gatherings have been full of rich dialogue as our colleagues discuss methods to find balance and equity among workloads and responsibilities.
Taking a Moment To Reflect
As I reflected on the year of serving on the FAC and in talking to several colleagues, I’ve noticed how everyone, myself included, is talking about how busy and stressed we feel this time of year. As teachers we tend to get so focused on our service to students, classes, committees, departments, and all the other hats we wear in life, that we forget to spend a few moments to fill up our own cups and maintain a healthy work-life balance. How are we supporting ourselves so we can continue to support our students? Are we taking a moment from our busy schedules to just breathe?
The Power of Breath
There are many ways to manage stress and create balance, but what I have found to be the most accessible and the most powerful way is to practice breathing techniques. The science of breathing and how different breathing methods affect our nervous system has recently come to light in the past few years with research at Stanford Medicine and the New York Times bestseller, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor. Mindful breathing helps by activating our parasympathetic nervous system, which can slow our heart rate and help us to feel calmer. Other benefits include feeling less anxious, feeling energized, regulating body temperature, enhancing the immune system, improving sleep, and experiencing more joy. Here are a few of my favorite methods that can be done anywhere, anytime, at no cost.
Take one long, full breath. That’s it!
4-7-8: Close the eyes and breathe in through the nose for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven, exhale through the mouth for a count of eight. Repeat several times and if available, close the eyes. This is a great method for falling asleep at night.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Lengthen through the spine, lift the rib cage and relax the shoulders down. Place one hand on the abdomen and one hand on the chest. Breathe in to expand the abdomen (chest remains still) and breathe out to draw the abdomen in. Repeat several times. Try lying on the back with knees bent for best results.
Box Breathing: Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold for a count of four. Repeat three more times for a total of four cycles. Each breath can be visualized as sides of a box.
Physiological Sigh/Cyclic Sigh: Inhale through the nose, take a second sharp sip of air to fully expand the lungs, then slowly exhale through the mouth. One cycle can do the trick or repeat for five minutes.
Victorious Breath (Ujjayi in Sanskrit): Breathe in through the nose. Breathe out through the nose and make the sound as if you are trying to fog up glasses. Make that same sound on the inhale by slightly narrowing the throat to create a vibration. Continue with the cycle and visualize the sound as waves rolling up and down the beach. This breath can be used alone or combined with moving through yoga poses.
Bee Beath (Brahmari): Inhale through the nose and exhale with lips slightly sealed to make a humming sound. Add on to the sound by covering the ears. Repeat for five rounds.
Alternate Nostril (Nadi Shodhana): Close the right nostril with the right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Now close the left nostril with the ring finger, release the thumb on the right nostril, and exhale through the right nostril. Breathe in through the right nostril. Remove the ring finger, close the right nostril with the thumb, and exhale through the left nostril. That is one round. Repeat as needed and combine with counted breaths.
Lion’s Breath (Simha Pranayama): Spread the fingers wide like claws and sit or stand up tall. Inhale through the nose. Exhale strongly through an open mouth while making a “HA” sound and sticking out the tongue. Gaze towards the tip of the nose. Repeat up to 5 times and notice the face and jaw relax.
Cooling Breath (Sitali): Purse lips or roll tongue and breathe in through the mouth. Exhale through the nose. Repeat as needed to cool down.
I find I tend to hold my breath when I feel stressed so hopefully this article will help bring awareness to our breath and remind us to take short breath breaks throughout the day to find balance during a busy day. I don’t recommend the Lion’s Breath during a Zoom meeting but most other techniques can be done anywhere and anytime! Hopefully we can spend a few moments each day leading up to graduation to fill our cups to support ourselves and our students. Looking forward to seeing everyone at the end of year celebrations!