Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

React or Respond?

Lenten Reflections #30

I love NPR, but some mornings on the way to work I listen to podcasts. Some are about self-care, organization, or ultra-athletes. Others chip away at answers about parenting, teenagers, or DIY hacks. Every now and then I’ll listen to whatever Google picks for me, because we all know Google knows us better than most.

One morning I got hooked on a podcast (per Google) about the art of breathing. Seems simple right? Inhale, exhale.

The interview I listened to was with Dr. Andrew Huberman who is a neuroscientist and professor at the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Huberman has developed what I call a ‘breathing bento box’ of exercises.

Huberman says with these breathing techniques, the brain and the nervous system can buddy up and help us manage our emotional stress. Although the reason for our stress has changed over the years, (thanks 2020!), our responses and reactions have remained the same.

When I look back on my knee-jerk reactions now, I realize I should have just taken a breath. 

—Fred Durst, Limp Bizkit

Reacting and responding are like heads and tails on a nickle, same shape and weight but appear very different.

Reacting is quick and mentally driven. Reactions occur when a stimulus or event sticks its foot out and trips us causing physical or emotional actions to follow. Do we fight or flee? Freeze or scream? When we react, our unconscious mind takes over and many times leads to regret later.

On the other hand, a response is slow and crafty. It uses data from the conscious and unconscious mind and often results in a morally logical solution. A response looks at the big picture, considers everyone’s feelings and aligns with your core values.

The ability to respond to stressful situations 100% of the time is impossible. As humans, we have natural reactions when we feel hurt or threatened. In an effort to move toward more mindful and calm responses, here are a few breathing techniques Dr. Huberman suggests:

The Extended Sigh **HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**
Double Inhale then Exhale. Do this – Inhale, then inhale again, then exhale with your nose or mouth and empty all of the air.
Do it a few times or more. This will help calm your body and mind give you added alertness.

Nasal Breathing:

This allows you to get rid of carbon dioxide and enhances memory and learning. In moments of stress, push the carbon dioxide out by taking a long exhale (nasal exhales are even better). Correctly managing carbon dioxide will minimize our stress responses.

Box breathing:

Inhale for 3 seconds. Hold for 3 seconds. Exhale for 3 seconds. Hold breath for 3 seconds. This technique will help regulate the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Our reaction or response to a situation is up to us. In the world today, we could use a lot more level-headed, calm, think-of-others approach to the way we do things. If you’re in a situation and you’re not feeling like you’ll make the right decision on how to react or respond, stop…breathe…and THEN decide which path you’ll traverse.

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

Hans Selye

On Faith and Fitness: Breeeeeath in fresh air outside today on a walk. Exhale.

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