Just Breathe, My CC#3 at Madhapur Toastmasters

Today I got the same feedback I've been getting all my life, i.e., improve eye-contact and avoid looking down. Its hard to sometimes recall the speech while looking at the audience in the eye but then its the audience a person speaks for, hence they deserve the attention.

As usual, I was nervous, and more so because this speech was something I really wanted to convey to the audience and not just a formality to finish my CC#3. So here goes my speech, titled "Just Breathe".

I was gasping for breath while my friends and I walked up the stairs, some 6 kms towards Tirupati. I took short pauses once in a while but eventually my friends decided to halt when they saw my face red with exhaustion. It was not my muscles that were paining, but my lungs which longed for more air due to the physical activity of upstairs walking. So one of my friends asked me to just sit and relax, he said, "Take deep breaths okay, just breathe". I felt like the critically wounded patient shown in the movies or TV shows, to whom the paramedics say, "just breathe, sir, just keep on breathing." I did feel better after few minutes of breathing in enough air.

Breathing is something we all do, involuntarily, but we usually don't realize it until we're gasping for what's most important for our survival, the air. Most of the people like me who have sedentary lifestyle or don't engage in much physical activities may get exhausted easily while doing physically challenging activities. This is because the capacity of our lungs to contain and process the air reduces with age. To keep the lungs healthy, one could either engage in sports or cardiovascular exercises which give lungs enough exercise, or, and this one’s for lazy bones like me, one could do some breathing exercises. Moreover, over the years, our manner of breathing gets worse as well and to reverse this to some extent, one must practice breathing the right way.

I’m sure we all have seen children playing around all day that sometimes their parents and other adults may wonder, where do these kids get this much energy from. That’s because kids breathe naturally, they breathe the right way, they do ‘deep breathing’ whereas adults like us do shallow breathing. The difference is simple. Kids use their whole upper body till the diaphragm to breathe in air while an average adult generally uses till the chest area to fill in air while breathing which restricts the amount of air the body can contain in one breath, which affects performance of the rest of the body. Lesser air, which means lesser oxygen with each breath, tires a person easily as compared to other people who do deep breathing.

Breathing exercises are like workout for lungs, without any sweat! The main focus of breathing exercises is to make a person utilize the whole upper body, especially the abdomen region while breathing, not just the chest area. Also, various exercises explore different kind of breathing techniques. Personally I practice Kapaal Bharati. The purpose of Kapaal Bharati is to empty the lungs and abdomen area by pushing out all the waste air so that more fresh air could be taken in. Breathing exercises are best practised during early morning hours so that fresh air is consumed in the process.

If you might have observed, when we are angry, fearful, or anxious, we over-breathe or frequency of breathing increases. In case of sadness, conflict or depression, we under-breathe or breathe less frequently. Some "hold their breath" in anticipation before a mystery is unraveled. Breathing rate changes automatically depending on one’s emotional state or mood. But breathing is a unique bodily function that can be both automatic without any deliberate effort and a self-directed and conscious activity. So, when we bring breathing under our direct and voluntary control, we can use it as a tool to control emotions.  We can easily observe the changes in our breathing when we consciously attempt to do so.

Similarly, it is extremely difficult to directly influence the activity of heart, kidney, stomach, intestines, and other organs which are involved in the experiencing of emotions.  Through breathing, we can influence the activity of these internal organs.

While the negative emotions cause over-breathing, under-breathing, and other irregular breathing activity, the positive emotions cause breathing to be deeper, easier, and effortless.  By the same functional relationship, when we restore our breathing to a deep, smooth, and rhythmical pattern, we can reduce the strength of negative emotions and acquire a peaceful and relaxing mental state.

Nature has equipped us with a "fight of flight" emergency response for surviving against the enemy or danger.  It has also provided us with a "calming" response, to restore peace and serenity, equally important for our survival.  You can trigger a calming response whenever you like by pressing the 'button," i.e. your breathing.  Take five or ten deep, smooth, rhythmical breathes.  With each out breath, say the word "calm" or "relax," silently in your head and there you are!  You have triggered a calming response.  It is simple and effective, most of the times.

Whenever you breathe directly through your nasal passages, the air that you breath in is made pure and once it gets through to your lungs and goes out your lips, it can then be optimized and leveraged in full. If you do this on a regular basis, you'll neutralize a lot of the more common issues while public speaking, like dry mouth, coughing and possibly a sore and painful throat. Make every attempt to acquire a great deal of fresh air as you possibly can and take in a few purifying breathes through your nose before you begin. Fill up your lungs and breathe out directly through your nose. Always remember and keep in mind that when you breathe in you are breathing in the good and when you breaths out you are breathing out the bad. This tends to be really simple and the payoff is immense!

I'd like to conclude by saying that we all must follow good breathing practices. If you're stressed, just breathe, if you're tired, just breathe, if you're dejected, just breathe, because correct breathing can heal and because breathing is life.