Dr Miro Bandalo tells us about a small breathing technique which has the power to help us in our everyday lives; especially with big adjustments, like foreigners moving to Croatia.
No matter where we live in the world, there is potential for everyday pressures to build up and cause us physical or emotional stress. When I first moved to Croatia, my anxiety and depression reached a whole new level; there was simply too much to process and my body and mind began to ‘shut down’. It wasn’t until I got back to my health and well-being that I started to take back control of my mind and body. I figured this all out the hard way but it turns out there is a ‘short-cut’ or at least a very simple practice that can help us almost immediately. I’ll let Dr Miro Bandalo take it over from here…
I was struggling with sleep. I would fall asleep without a hitch, but then I’d wake up about twenty times throughout the night. Having three children under the age of eight, this really wasn’t a surprise, but after a while it got old, and it was wearing me down. Fast forward a few months, and I sold my business, moved to Croatia with my family, and…it was summer. Croatia and its laid-back pace holds promises of slower lifestyle, four-hour coffees, and a definition of success where social life reigns supreme over achievement-based lifestyle. The only problem was – I still had three children, my wife doesn’t speak Croatian, and there was paperwork to be done at the police station.
I am sure you’ve experienced some of the same issues. You move to this beautiful place expecting your baggage to stay at the location you just departed. Yet, somehow it finds its way home, and you are still you. Long story short, here I was again, unable to run away from my old habits, and general busy-ness of life. Sleep was still an issue and during the day I felt out of focus, overwhelmed, forgetful and irritable.
As a doctor of chiropractic, I help other people thrive, yet here I was suffering, and apparently ignoring my own advice. I noticed my breathing was shallow, and that it often seemed as if I was actually holding my breath.
Our body is designed to encounter, adapt and get stronger from exposure to stress. At the same time, we only have so much capacity and when that capacity is overwhelmed, we break down, or in medical terms, we present with symptoms.
There are three types of stress: physical, chemical and emotional. Physical stress is mechanical in nature and includes trauma, or postures we spend significant time in. Chemical stress involves anything related to drugs, food or drinks – basically, anything we ingest or are exposed to. Emotional stress relates to all the thoughts we have throughout the day, positive or negative, those we create or those of people around us.
In short, every stress creates a response, and if the sum total of stresses exceeds our cup, trouble is ahead. My symptoms were related to typical stress overload, yet I couldn’t think of specific contributors to my state of being. On the other hand, I needed a quick solution because my daily function was spiralling out of control and I felt more and more stressed out. I was already following the typical sleeping routine advice: cold showers before bed, warm tea at night, cutting out blue light at night (think screen time – i.e. download i.flux for your laptop or use Night Shift lighting option on your Apple products). I also got rid of all electronics in my bedroom, used a white noise machine, and wore an eye mask to completely eliminate any lighting. Sleep problems persisted. Just when I was ready to admit defeat, I realized there was another solution.
Enter breathing. We cannot directly control a number of functions in our body but we can influence them significantly through our breathing. Breathing increases oxygen delivery to the brain, lowers blood pressure, changes hormones as well as our body’s pH. It can even help you shed unwanted pounds because it calms you, therefore ridding you of fat saving hormone cortisol, and by increasing oxygen delivery, breathing also increases your metabolism.
Credit: Tash Pericic
Here’s how you can improve your breathing in a simple, calm and effective manner:
• Set your timer for five minutes. The key to every new habit is to follow your ABCs: Automatic, Brief, and Consistent.
• Sit in a comfortable position with your body upright and somewhat relaxed.
• Close your eyes and breathe in. Breathe out. Follow your breath as it flows in, then as it flows out. Repeat for five minutes.
• Start at five minutes at a specific time of day (i.e. at wake up, midday, or before bedtime), and if you’re consistently practicing your breathing at once per day for a full week, increase frequency to twice per day before increasing the duration.
So, there you have it, one simple change in your day can have a tremendous effect on every aspect of your life. Best of all – you’re in complete control of it. Practicing your breathing can be done anywhere, anytime, and requires no equipment. I now try to practice breathing before my prayers and morning routine, after lunchtime and at night after putting our kids to bed. Start with once a day, for five minutes only. I would suggest increasing frequency during the day rather than increasing the time. Once you’re practising two or even thrice a day, increase the duration to ten minutes.
How well does it work? Any time I practice breathing, and these days I use a wonderful app called Calm, I am asleep before my ten-minute session is even finished. And waking up during the night – it barely happens (usually only to use the restroom). I am calmer, more focused, and more productive thanks to breathing. Try it, it only takes five minutes out of your day. You will be happier, more relaxed and get to enjoy all Croatia has to offer even more.
Let me know how it went and what were some common issues you’ve had. And be forgiving, it takes all of us some time to get good at breathing, even if it is something we do all the time. Practice makes perfect.