I couldn’t tell at first if the shrieks were of joy, annoyance, or pain coming from the pool with 11 children in it.
When I finally realized that someone was definitely crying in pain, I knew it wasn’t mine but was still concerned. One of the kids swimming with us was holding his hand and blood was starting to run down his fingers. It turned out that someone had thrown the dog toy into the pool, and the dog, a highly focused retriever, flew in after it and accidentally put his tooth through the tip of this boy’s finger.
It wasn’t an incredibly serious bite, but it was one that would have sent my adrenaline as a mother through the roof for sure. His mom, as many mothers of large families are, was incredibly calm, cool and collected. She told him that he was going to be fine, that the dog wasn’t trying to hurt him and to just breathe.
I kept hearing that phrase “just breathe” from the mom and the homeowner, who was working to fix him up with first aid.
It struck me how pervasive breathing, as advice, is in our culture.
Here in America, pretty much all adults and most children are running around in a stressed-out state all the time, worrying about this, that, and the other thing, being overscheduled and buried under thousand-ton to-do lists.
Our stress reactions are causing our bodies a great deal of physical strife. In fact, it’s said that 80% of doctor visits are stress-related.
So it’s great that people know to “just breathe,” even though they have no idea why it works.
What’s interesting to me, as a newly certified Stress Mastery Educator, is that sometimes the advice to “just breathe” can be taken completely wrong.
We Don’t Always Breathe Right in America
For example, my professor, Dr. Heidi Hanna has a stress-induced disorder where she would actually just faint anytime her body felt threatened.
Talk about a tough way to get through middle school!
Her whole life, people would tell her “just breathe,” so at this point, as an adult with her stress completely under control as someone who researches stress for living, when anyone tells her “just breathe,” it actually heightens her heart rate and stress response, because all she can think of is those terrible teenage years when people were trying to help but didn’t know how!
Who knew that even breathing needs an instruction manual for us to get it right!
How to Breathe Correctly for Meditation
What Americans really need is instruction on proper breathing, and potentially multiple techniques that one can use in different situations.
Statistics say that meditating or being quiet for just 10 to 20 minutes a day can decrease the risk of disease by 23%. And there are actually professionals who specialize in breathwork, and quite simply, their job is to teach people how to breathe.
We think that breathing is completely natural, right? It’s one of those things where people even joke like, “Well, we don’t forget to breathe,” because it’s something that even happens in our sleep.
However, a lot of us are breathing wrong and actually holding our breath in moments of stress.
Time to learn to breathe correctly.
Scientists have found that the most optimal cadence for your breath is five seconds in and five seconds out. This makes about six breaths per minute, which again, is the most optimal for your health and stress levels.
Try it right now:
Inhale for five seconds and exhale for five seconds.
I can almost guarantee you’ll be surprised about how much concentration that takes.
That’s exactly the kind of breathing one would want to focus on if they were taking some quiet moments for prayer, meditation, or just a brain break from work.
Breathing When Stressed
If you’re feeling really stressed or, like in the case of the boy with the dog bite on his finger, are in need more of a remedial breath, you can use a different type of breath.
If you realize you’ve been holding your breath as you work on something difficult or if you’ve been hyperventilating a little and your heart rate is up, you need to get your body out of the sympathetic fight or flight stress response state and back into a parasympathetic, rest and digest state.
To do this, you’ll want to extend your exhale twice as long as your inhale. Some people call this a 2x breath, or they might call it a 3-6 or a 4-8 breath.
For example, you can inhale three seconds, and do a nice, controlled, extended exhale for six seconds, or inhale for four seconds, and exhale for eight seconds.
That extended exhale helps get your body into a parasympathetic state more quickly. And that’s where your body can rest and digest and bring your heart rate down, and quite simply control your stress levels and their effect on your health.
A Tool to Help you Meditate Better
Of course, the hardest part about being in a stressful situation is that it tends to erase our memories of all the good things we’ve learned from blog posts like this. That’s why we need to practice this kind of breathing before we are in a crisis so that it’s more of a natural response for us when the crisis occurs.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve really been enjoying the Inner Balance tool and app from HeartMath.
What is Inner Balance by HeartMath?
The mission of the HeartMath brand is to help people get their hearts and brains in better coherence because that’s the best state of being for optimal health and dealing with stressful situations.
They have been able to leverage technology to help people practice. And that’s why I love it, because so many adults especially have trouble with meditation with their mind wandering, distractions, or they don’t like sitting still and being quiet. It can be an uncomfortable thing, especially for us Americans who are used to being busy, busy, busy and having things to do with our brains and bodies all the time.
I’ve always loved that in the Catholic faith, God has given us a form of prayer that keeps our brains, mouths, and bodies all busy at once. Turns out He may have known a little bit about science when He created things. 😉
That’s the Rosary: your fingers are busy with the beads, your brain is busy meditating on the mysteries (in other words, the stories of Jesus’s life), and your mouth can be busy saying the rote memorized prayers.
It’s really a perfect way to meditate, but it doesn’t include the breathwork.
That’s where the Inner Balance tool comes in. It’s a tiny little piece of hardware that has an ear clip and a sensor. You clip the one part to your ear lobe and turn the sensor on, and then it connects via Bluetooth to the app on your smartphone.
The app is able to measure your breath and heart rate and if your brain is in coherence with your heart.
As you use the tool, through visual imagery and text recommendations, your smartphone will help you align your breath and heart rate.
It’s super fascinating from a science geek perspective but it’s so easy to use, my seven-year-old loves it.
How to Use the Inner Balance Tool by HeartMath
Watch me demo the Inner Balance tool by HeartMath in this video.
You can choose to practice or meditate for as short or as long as you want, but I would recommend doing about 5 or 10 minutes each time.
The tool will give you a score, either green, blue, or red, depending on how well you are doing at your breathing.
- Green means your heart and brain are in coherence.
- Blue means you’re getting pretty close.
- Red means you need some work.
When you’re getting reds, the tool will often give you little tips like “focus on heart-centered gratitude,” or “inhale and exhale with the image,” stuff like that.
The goal, of course, is to get as many greens as you can, and that means that your breaths are nice and measured, preferably six breaths per minute, and your heart rate is also in coherence with your brain activity.
That’s where the gratitude comes in.
Feeling gratitude, the kind that sort of makes your heart swell up with joy, is actually a research-proven way to reduce stress and to reduce your heart rate.
I love that humans are actually in control of their stress response because your breath controls your heart rate, not the other way around.
So when your heart is racing and you feel adrenaline coursing through your body because of something you just experienced that’s stressful, as long as you can be in control of your breath, you’re also in control of your heart rate.
That’s where the practice comes in, right?
We have to practice in order to naturally control our breaths in this way.
I thought I was getting pretty good with the Inner Balance tool after just a couple sessions, and then my Stress Mastery Educator colleague who told me about the tool asked what level I was working on.
Uh oh, apparently there are difficulty levels 1-4 (see above) where you have to get closer and closer in coherence as they go up. Ha! I’m now working on getting good at level two. 🙂
Why Our Whole Family Likes Inner Balance by HeartMath
In summer 2019 my family of six went on a six-week road trip. I knew that my kids would need some routine since every couple of nights we were switching our living space and all normal routines were shot.
I decided that each time we drove, we would have a specific routine to start, and I thought that it would be a great time to teach my kids how to better manage their own stress.
Because it’s gamified, obviously that makes it more fun for kids (and for adults too of course). The kids really liked watching their score or their colors and trying to get better, and I can tell that it’s actually helping them in the rest of their lives as a habit:
When my youngest would get distraught about whatever had gone wrong (you know it doesn’t take much for a four-year-old) my 11-year-old daughter would swoop in and say, “Do your Heartmath breathing,” and then they would breathe together to help calm him down.
It’s a beautiful thing to see siblings working together like that.
And that just demonstrates as well how easy it is to use, that all my kids can easily figure it out and really enjoy it.
Now our only difficulty is fighting about whose turn it is to go first, which sometimes causes enough stress that they start out with more blues and reds than usual!
But How Much Does it Cost?
If you’ve already clicked over to check out the Inner Balance tool, I’m sure you’ve noticed the price tag. It’s more than a latte at Starbucks, that’s for sure.
But when you think about a tool that’s kind of medically-based, the kind of thing you might see at a doctor’s office, that’s Bluetooth-connected to your phone, and potentially saving you from all sorts of diseases of civilization, it may not be as bad as you think.
Plus, remember that as many people as you want can use the tool. Not at the same time, but since you only need it for 5-10 minutes a day, it’s pretty easy to share this little meditation helper.
Once it’s charged, it stays charged for up to 80 hours of session time and it doesn’t take up much space to pack so you can easily use it on the go.
It’s the kind of investment in your health that many of us put into supplements to the tune of $30-$100 per month in a family, and this is a one-time cost that everyone can use to reduce your stress response, improve your breathing, and ultimately lay the foundation for good health habits for the rest of your family’s lives.
Do You Need Help Managing Your Stress?
If you live in America, the answer that question is probably yes.
If your kids are in extracurriculars, the answer for your kids is probably yes.
If your kids are in a grade high enough to have standardized tests, the answer to that question is probably yes.
And if you’re homeschooling and you have more than one child, the answer to that question is probably yes.
Stress management techniques often include removing things from your life, which is why I like Stress Mastery so much more.
Stress Mastery talks about increasing your own capacity to manage whatever stressors life throws at you, which I think is a much better idea than changing the things you do that you actually love, or that you have to do like paying bills. We just can’t cut that out of our lives.
Learning to breathe correctly is definitely the foundation for mastering your own stress responses and improving your health.
If you’ve ever tried to meditate and it hasn’t worked very well for you, this is a great way to leverage technology to help you take advantage of all the research about the powerful benefits of meditation.
If you need a routine for prayer, and want to make sure that it’s also physically improving your health, this is a great little tool to incorporate, and I’m sure you’ll find that the cost is worth it.
The next time a child I don’t know gets hurt and the parents are saying “just breathe,” maybe I will be brave enough to speak up and teach them a 2x breath.
On the other hand, maybe I can help families all over practice that sort of breathing as a good habit so that you’re ready when the next crisis hits for your family.
The company is providing a 10% off coupon code for my the KS community!
Enter the coupon code KSreader for 10% off the Inner Balance technology or any of their other tech products! They also offer free shipping on orders over $49 within the continental U.S.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links from which I will earn a commission. See my full disclosure statement here.