2 Essential Tools You Need – Breath Work & Mental Imagery

In today’s episode of the Inspiration2grow podcast I am giving you a glimpse into how you can use breath work and visualization as methods of focus, meditation and relaxation in times of stress, anxiety and overwhelm or just because. 

It’s Tangible Tuesday so I want to provide you with some tools and tactics today that will help you in any number of situations.  In fact, the breath work I am going to walk you through today was very beneficial for the children and teenagers I used to work with.  Many of them told me they would implement the breathing technique right before starting a test to gain focus or in instances they felt a highly anxious at school and playing their sport.  They’re simple, yet highly effective.

How often are you breathing?  I mean, consciously breathing by taking deep, mindful, belly breaths that really oxygenate your entire body and mind.

Many of us go about our busy days and never take the time to truly BREATHE deeply and with intention.

Once you practice breathing techniques and truly harness the power of your breath, the results can be refreshingly awakening.

So, breathwork can best be described as an active breathing technique that focuses on our breathing patterns and creates a mind body connection that will improve our health on many levels – physically, emotionally as well as spiritually.

You’ll gain clarity and feel empowered. During breathwork you don’t need anything externally, so there is a feeling of inner empowerment that comes or arises from within.  It sounds a bit woowoo, but until you actually give it a try, you won’t understand what I mean here.  Your own breath can become a source of answers to questions, offer insights to challenges you are facing, provide a sense of freedom from feeling stuck and also gives you a glimpse of what’s next for your life and your work in the world.

Breathwork helps you put the brakes on an acute stress response and diverts the health problems associated with chronic stress, which we all know is quite detrimental to our health.  By activating the body’s relaxation response, deep abdominal breathing helps decrease blood pressure.

If I had to guess, I would wager a bet that many of you have never practiced breathwork before OR even considered it as a means of becoming mentally stronger.  But I am sure that you have heard the saying, “Take a deep breath,” when you found yourself in a stressful situation.
Feelings come and go like clouds on a windy day, but conscious breathing remains my anchor.  Conscious breathing is the best antidote to overcome moments of: overwhelm, anxiety, stress and feelings of being out of control.

Okay, let’s dive into the two breathwork techniques you can use anytime, anywhere.

The first technique is called the ‘6-2-8 Breath Triangle’.

This breathwork exercise is done with your eyes closed and the triangle part of it means you are going to focus on your nose leading to one edge of your mouth to the other edge and back to your nose.  So, let’s begin by closing our eyes and simply focusing on this triangle right below your eyes.

Good, now we are ready to add in the breathing component.  The 6-2-8 method means we will take a deep breath in for 6 seconds, hold it for 2 followed by a long, deep exhale for 8 seconds.  Let’s try it a few times.

Eyes closed focused on your triangle.  Start by breathing in for 6 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, then release a long exhale for 8 seconds.  And again.
And once again.

If you become distracted by anything (maybe a smell or sound), always bring it back to the triangle and focus on the invisible line connecting your nose to mouth to other edge of your gorgeous mouth and back up to your nose. 

You can do this exercise for as long as you want.  You should feel your belly moving in and out  – this means your breaths are deep and slow.  You find yourself relaxing and letting stress, worry and anxiety leaving your body.  Your shoulders start to drop with even more relaxation.  Your mind focuses better and better with each breath.

Breathwork helps you regain control of yourself and is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal.

The second breathing technique I will teach you today is called the ‘5 by 5 Box’.

So, begin by picturing a box with your eyes closed of course.  Our breathing and focus will be in line with this box.  Essentially, what we do is inhale for 5 seconds, hold it for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, and hold again for 5 seconds.  So, we have 4 breath actions and each takes place along one side of the box.

Let’s give it a shot… Inhale for 5 seconds and let your mind imagine moving up one side of the box.  Hold this breath for 5 seconds while moving along the next side of the box.  Now, exhale for 5 seconds and again, move your mind along the third side.  Hold in the exhaled state for 5 seconds and you should be back to the beginning.  Once again,…

Remember, the #1 way to get in control of yourself is by breathing!  You can practice either of these techniques in an easy environment OR you can add stimulus in order to improve your focus.

If you have children or teens who could use a bit of focus or relief of tension and anxiety in their lives, introduce them to these methods.  You will be surprised at how well they work for people of any age.

Now, I am going to move onto visualization or mental imagery as a second tool to have in your tool box.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, the mental images you create and carry around, positive or negative, have a direct impact on our physical and mental performance.  When you begin to train your skills of mental imagery and meditation (this could be through breathwork), you will notice that you are better able to stay calm under pressure and you will experience improved focus on doing one task at a time.  You will be present in the moment rather than getting caught up in the past or future.

An added bonus … you will develop one of the best tools to increase your confidence.  This particular tool I am talking about is referred to with the acronym B.A.L.L. which is a 4-step mental imagery drill you can start implementing today.

B – stands for BREATHE using the 6-2-8 Breath Triangle Technique (we went through it earlier)
A – stands for AFFIRMATION.  Using self-talk training you say things to yourself with a strong, committed internal voice. 
L – stands for LOOK BACK at your previous success.  Remind yourself that you are a success and draw on these examples from previous experiences.
L – stands for LOOK FORWARD to your new day.  Get excited about what the new day has in store for you.  It’s loaded with opportunities to show up as your best, most confident self.

I want you to understand this…

-> Anxiety comes with an obsession over the future.
-> Depression comes from an obsession over the past that you can’t do anything about.  You can’t go back and re-write your history or change anything about it; you can only learn from it.)

Living your daily life optimally comes from being obsessed with the present – here and now.

Today’s the biggest day of your life.  Why?  Because you are living it!

So, make a conscious effort to be present TODAY.  Show up as you were meant to and make yourself so darn proud.

When your head hits the pillow each night, in your mind – replay all the positives that happened during the day. Replay your performance of the day.  Let go of any negative moments and reinforce the positive.  Tomorrow is a new day to shine.

If you’re wondering who even used mental imagery, let me provide a few examples…

The first time I saw it being implemented was in top athletes who use imagery extensively to build on their strengths and help eliminate their weaknesses.  It is a critical tool for them to compete more effectively.  You might have seen athletes before major sporting events with their headphones on, eyes closed, fully concentrated, tuning out everything else around them – they call it ‘getting in the zone’.  Imagery not only helps athletes regulate the levels of anxiety they are experiencing at that moment before or during competitions, but it also helps athletes remain calm, confident, focused and mentally tough.  In fact, research has shown that athletes are able to improve both physical as well as psychological reactions in certain situations with visualization.

Some practical examples:

* Emily Cook, of the USA freestyle ski team, visualizes each aerial jump as part of her training for the Olympic Games.  She broke it down and recorded her visualization technique as a script to go over again and again and it goes something like this:
‘I am standing on the top of the hill.  I can feel the wind on the back of my neck. I can hear the crowd. I turn down the in-run. I stand up. I engage my core. I look at the top of the jump.” She went through every step of how she wanted her jump to turn out.
* Billie Jean King, top seeded tennis player, was already using mental imagery to win matches back in the 1960’s.

* If you’ve ever watched an alpine ski race, you’ll often see the starters visualizing the run right before the buzzer rings and they are heading down the slope.  Skiers including Lindsey Vonn of the United States, would use their hands to simulate the path of her skis.

* Olympic swimmers such as Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky attribute part of their success in the pool to getting mentally prepared through visualization.
Visualization can also be coined “strategic daydreaming”.  It is like a dress rehearsal of what lies ahead.  It offers mental preparedness for the day.

So, for those of you who intend of using visualization in your every day life, here are some helpful tips:

The skill of visualization is fairly simple and straightforward in theory:  You find yourself a quiet, calm spot, then close your eyes, and roll the scene (as if a movie is playing out before your eyes) of your ideal day or you overcoming adversity of some kind or yourself at your next workout.

The goal, here, is to give yourself a series of WINS.  This provides you with a sense of “been there, done that.”  It gives you a ‘dry-run’ of the day so that when it happens for real, you won’t be overwhelmed or become buried by the pressure and the unexpected.

Mentally imagining the day or a particular scenario helps to decrease your overthinking which many of us get so caught up in that we can’t move forward at times.  Overthinking means you are thinking about what others are thinking, worrying about disappointing people, obsessing over things outside of your control and over-analyzing every little thing you are doing.  What visualization does is it helps keep you focused on the things that matter most.

Both breathwork AND visualization could become part of your morning routine setting you up for a successful day. Who doesn’t enjoy starting the day off in a relaxed state of mind feeling prepared for whatever the day may bring?

I sincerely hope you give these methods a try. 

Remember that daily practice will yield the best results and you will become fair more comfortable and train and tweak these skills to work best for your situation. 

I truly hope to have inspired you to grow with these ideas and methods of relaxation and focusing.

Til next time,

Lisa xoxo