The Remember to Breathe site is packed with useful information, insights, and instructions. Within this post there are links to the site pages, where you'll find free related 'brain exercise' videos and additional resources.
Excerpts are reprinted with permission from 'remember-to-breathe.org' and site pages are linked herein.
Excerpt from 'HOME'
Many Problems, One Cause
Most of us struggle – at least to some extent – with difficult emotions, tense bodies, overactive minds, problematic relationships, and a host of other challenges. We generally believe that it’s something in the external world that’s causing our problems – lack of time, lack of money, pressures at work, difficult people, and so on.
Though it may be hard to believe, neuroscientific research indicates that the ultimate source of stress and emotional suffering is something more internal – the functioning of your own brain. When the parts of your brain are out of balance, even if your life were relatively easy, you would experience it as stressful. On the other hand, even if your life is very difficult, when the various parts of your brain are in harmony, you can remain inwardly calm and at ease.
This is actually good news because neuroscience also tells us that you can train your brain in a way that will restore balance to both your brain and your life. There are many ways to train your brain, but whatever method or technique you choose, real and lasting change depends on something else – what we’re calling “remember to breathe.”
“Remember to breathe” means remembering, again and again, to pause for a moment in the midst of whatever activity you’re engaged in, to allow the various parts of your brain to come into harmony with each other. When they begin to come into balance – even a little bit – you will begin to feel very different.
So what does it feel like when your brain comes into balance?
Balanced Brain, Balanced Life
Did you ever have a moment – maybe while engaged in sports . . . working on a challenging project . . . or having an intimate conversation – when the sense of strain just seemed to melt away? You have a sudden feeling of ease . . . and things seem to flow almost effortlessly. You feel calm, content, and deeply connected to the people around you.
It may seem as if these moments come out of the blue and disappear just as mysteriously, leaving you wishing for more.
But the latest brain research shows that these experiences may not be so mysterious after all - and that you have far more power to create them than you think. In fact, the more you bring your brain into balance, the more often this feeling of calm and contentment, ease and effortlessness, will be with you. Eventually, you'll begin to feel like there's a core of calm contentment always there inside you. Like the eye of a hurricane, it remains undisturbed no matter what may be happening around you.
What Makes Our Brains Unbalanced?
Our brains can become out of balance when the different parts of our brain interfere with each other’s functioning, which happens almost constantly. The drives of our instinctive brain tend to be at odds with the needs of our emotional brain, and both can interfere with the carefully laid out plans of our thinking brain.
This imbalance between the various parts of our brain happens largely because our brains are out of sync with the modern world in which we live. Thousands of years ago, our brain functioned according to “rules” that kept us alive and safe in a very different, much simpler world. But those same rules, when applied in this far more complex environment, tend to do the opposite – they create physical and mental imbalance, leading to addictive behaviors, reactive emotions, and thinking that is distracted and confused.
What seems to be needed is something that can get the different parts of our brain to listen to and collaborate with each other so that they can respond to people and events in a more balanced way. Our brain needs a good manager or coach that can honor the strengths and talents of all its parts, and inspire them to work together as a team.
The MPFC to the Rescue
Fortunately, our brains come equipped with such a coach, a good manager who knows how to get all the members of the “team” to work and play together. It resides in the middle of the newest, most complex part of the brain called the mid-prefrontal cortex, or MPFC for short.
Our MPFC has the capacity to listen to the signals from our instinctive brain and to regulate its survival mechanisms so that they don’t create havoc in our bodies. It can calm the tides of our emotional brain, and still honor the valuable information that those emotions provide. By making us conscious of our automatic instinctive drives and emotional reactions, it offers us the possibility of freedom from their rigid ways of reacting to the world. It gives us the option to reflect and respond more flexibly, creatively, and wisely to the kinds of situations we encounter in the modern world.
The problem is that our MPFC, being a relatively young part of our brain, is not as strong or well-developed, nor as quick to respond as are the older parts of our brain (which have had over 100 million years of practice). So we could just wait another million years or so for it to evolve on its own, or we can choose to train it to become stronger and faster today.
The MPFC - Heart Brain Partnership
In order to do its job well, our MPFC needs to collaborate with an older organ – what some neuroscientists now refer to as the “heart brain”. Our heart brain, like our MPFC, can have a harmonizing and integrative influence on our head brain. When our MPFC and heart brain are both doing their jobs well, they’re able to harmonize our instinctive brain, emotional brain, and thinking brain.
As the different parts of your brain become more balanced, you’ll find you’re able to respond more appropriately to people and events in your life. No matter what you’re dealing with – whether it’s severe physical pain, a painful relationship, intense pressure at work, or compulsive habits and addictions – you’ll find that the experience of having a calm, easeful center within you becomes stronger and more easily accessible.
Remembering to Breathe
The act of “returning” to that center of calm is what we’re calling "remember to breathe". Returning to your center means pausing inwardly for a moment, and letting your MPFC and heart brain take control of your attention.
As your MPFC and heart brain gain control, it becomes easier to unhook your attention from whatever struggles and dramas you’ve been caught up in and let it come to rest in that center of ease, calm, and contentment.
It may be hard to believe that such an experience is within reach. That’s why we offer a variety of techniques that train your brain to make the experience more accessible. These techniques include breathing exercises, relaxation, imagery, and meditation, among others. But the essential technique for contacting that inner core, is training your attention.
As you practice training your attention, you’ll find you’re able to view whatever’s happening with great simplicity. You can be calmly aware of what things look, sound, or feel like, without any added commentary or judgment. And when your heart brain comes into play, you'll also have a sense of softness or kindness toward whatever’s happening.
When you attend to your experience this way, it may feel as though clouds of mental and emotional heaviness have been lifted and you can suddenly breathe more freely, see more clearly. In that state, you’ll naturally be able to respond more wisely and effectively to whatever you’re dealing with – whether it’s a severe physical pain, a difficult relationship, a challenging work assignment, or a compulsive habit or addiction.
This shift in how you attend to your experience has the potential to radically transform your life. It can give you the sense that you have at your core, a “place” that, by its very nature, is calm, kind, and contented.
You may wonder how just a moment of looking calmly at your experience can make much of a difference in your life. And you’re right, an occasional moment won’t do it. It takes repeated practice. That’s why the “remember” part of “remember to breathe” is so important.
Each time you shift to a calmer, kinder way of relating to your experience, you activate your heart brain and MPFC. If you remember to do that periodically throughout the day, you start to build strength in those brain structures – just as you would strengthen a muscle with repeated use. Over time, as they get stronger, it becomes easier for you to make the shift – and eventually, it starts to happen on its own.
Taking an Actual Breath
If making that shift is not immediately accessible to you, one of the simplest, fastest, and easiest ways to get a taste of it is to take a slow, full, conscious breath – gently breathing in . . . and slowly breathing out fully.
As we said above, "remember to breathe" is our shorthand way of saying, "pause for a moment to activate your MPFC-heart brain and connect to your core of calm, ease, and contentment." But it can also simply mean
b r e a t h e
Taking a conscious breath or two will calm your autonomic nervous system, soothe your agitated lower brain, activate your MPFC, and if you imagine you’re breathing into your heart, it will activate the nerve cells in your heart brain as well.
Just remembering to stop and take a few slow, deep breaths in the midst of your day will help to balance your brain, give you a taste of that inner calm, and help you to be more effective in whatever you’re doing.
Try a Breathing Video
If you have a few moments, we’d like to invite you to do a little conscious breathing in time with the music and images in these breathing videos.
There are just a few things you need to know first:
Be in a comfortable, relaxed position, and let your breathing be smooth and gentle.
It's best to listen through headphones or earbuds.
Watch in full screen.
Use "ocean breathing"
And here are the breathing videos:
Excerpt from 'THE MOST IMPORTANT PAGE'
Change Can Be Hard
We’ve said on our home page, and throughout the site, that there’s one thing that can change everything in your life – and that one thing is “remembering to breathe.” We use “remembering to breathe” as a kind of shorthand way of saying that
when you make a habit of p a u s i n g
from time to time
in the midst of whatever you’re doing
to attune yourself to the
of your core,
everything in your life can feel
and more joyful.
Sometimes, you just have to remember that the core is there in order to get a taste of its calm and contentment. But in the beginning, most people need to practice some techniques for a while to help create new habits that make the core more accessible. You can learn those techniques in the Techniques section of the site.
In the Brain Pages of the site, you can learn about exciting new discoveries in the field of neuroscience that explain why those techniques are effective in changing your brain and changing your life.
But knowing the techniques and having the understanding and encouragement that the brain science provides, aren't always enough to make a difference. If you’ve ever tried to change the way you eat, start an exercise program, or practice a new skill, you know it’s hard to have the discipline it takes to make the kind of lasting changes you're looking for. And it can be even harder to change things like work habits or how we relate to other people.
The Missing Critical Ingredient
There’s now a great deal of research showing that for the vast majority of people, one of the single most powerful factors that determines whether or not they will succeed in their efforts at personal change, is social support – a sense of connection, caring, and shared intention with other people.
Or to put it really simply, the most powerful lever for change is people helping each other to make healthier, more constructive choices.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PAGE
Excerpt from 'THE CORE'
As you go through this website, you’ll notice that we repeatedly talk about something we call the "inner core of calm, ease and contentment." In fact, our main theme is this: By remembering to pause and reconnect to that inner core, everything in your life will become easier and more effective. This pausing to reconnect is what we mean by the phrase, "remember to breathe".
So What is the "Core"?
The core is not a physical place or thing – it’s an experience that’s natural to us when our brains are balanced and well-integrated. When we have access to the experience of the core, all kinds of positive physical changes occur that can, and have been, measured. But to give you a better feeling for what the experience of the core is like, we're going to use a couple of metaphors.
The Wheel of Awareness
One of the best ways we’ve found to illustrate what we mean by the core is psychiatrist Dan Siegel’s image of the "wheel of awareness". The image of the wheel helps us to make a simple distinction – the distinction between our awareness (the center or “hub” of the wheel) and everything we’re aware of (arrayed around the rim of the wheel).
The experience of being anchored at the hub of the wheel is what we mean by being "centered in your core." That experience has a quality of openness and freedom.
It’s open in the sense that your awareness is not stuck in any one aspect of your experience – it can be wide and flexible, taking in many aspects of experience.
It’s free in the sense that you’re not compelled to act on, or react to, anything you’re aware of on the rim – you’re free to choose where and how to direct your attention, and how to respond to whatever you attend to.
According to Dan Siegel, “The wheel of awareness is now being used in a variety of schools, in psychotherapy practices, and meditation programs.”
Siegel reports that at one school, “A teacher told me that a young student said she needed a time out to ‘get back in her hub’ when she was finding herself about to fight with another child in the school yard.”
Siegel goes on to say that "'coming back to the hub’ is a quick metaphor one can use as an easily accessible reminder to remain in, or return to an open, mindful place.”
The Depths of the Ocean
The ocean is another helpful image – one that has been used around the world for many centuries. In this metaphor, all that we’re aware of is on the surface of the ocean, and deep beneath the surface is the experience of just being aware, the experience of the core. In the depths of the ocean, all is quiet, clear, and peaceful. From those clear, calm depths we can look up and calmly see the play of thoughts, memories, hopes, and fears on the surface – without having to react to them.
You can also come up with your own images that will help evoke the experience of the core for you. Click here for the story of how one mother did this for her seven-year-old son.
How Do We Contact This Core?
One approach to contacting the core involves the development of mindful awareness. This is the practice of distinguishing between our awareness (at the “hub” of the wheel of awareness) and what we’re aware of (around the rim of the wheel). This practice helps us to remain at the calm hub of the wheel as we relate to the inner and outer events on the rim . And that gives us the ability to respond to those events with greater freedom, wisdom and compassion.
Cultivating mindful awareness trains and develops the mid-prefrontal cortex ("MPFC"), which then makes it easier and easier to maintain mindful awareness, even in the face of challenging events.
There’s another, very different way to access the core which some people find easier – that is, by evoking a positive emotion.
Scientific research over the past 20 years has shown that it’s actually possible to evoke powerful, positive emotions at will through a process we call heart-centering.
In heart-centering you take a few slow, gentle breaths, imagining that you’re breathing into and out from your heart. As you continue breathing into and out from your heart, you bring to mind a person, a place, or a moment in your life that evokes for you a feeling of appreciation, caring, love, gratitude, safety, or some other positive emotion. Once the feeling is strong and vivid, you can let go of the image that evoked it.
As you relax into the feeling, letting it fill your heart, and mind, and body, you'll get a taste of the calm and ease at the core of your awareness. ??
Dr. Roland McCraty, in his book “The Appreciative Heart,” describes an experience of the core that can come about with sustained practice of this kind of “heart-centering”:
You feel a deep sense of peace and internal balance – you are at harmony with yourself, with others, and with your larger environment. You experience increased buoyancy and vitality. Your senses are enlivened—every aspect of your perceptual experience seems richer, more textured. Surprisingly, you feel invigorated even when you would usually have felt tired and drained. Things that usually would have irked you just don’t “get to you” as much. Your body feels regenerated—your mind clear. At least for a period of time, decisions become obvious as priorities clarify and inner conflict dissolves. Intuitive insight suddenly provides convenient solutions to problems that had previously consumed weeks of restless thought. Your creativity flows freely. You may experience a sense of greater connectedness with others and feelings of deep fulfillment.
Acting From the Core
For some, experiences of the core may come spontaneously in the midst of certain activities.
The psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihayli (M’high CHICK-sent-m’high) studied artists back in the 1960s, and noted that many of them described a state in which they were so completely immersed in what they were doing that they felt as though there was almost no separation between them and their painting. They had a sense of spaciousness, contentment, and ease.
In describing the experience, they used a phrase that was popular at the time – "being in the flow". Csikszentmihalyi shortened it to simply "flow" and described it as ". . .being completely involved in an activity for its own sake… Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost." Other phrases that have been used to refer to this flow-like state include being "wired-in", "in the groove", "in the zone", and "in the now".
Csikszentmihayli later spent many years talking with different kinds of people from all over the world – people of different cultures, gender, race, and age – who had all experienced this flow state. They included cyclists, elderly Korean women, Japanese teenage motorcycle gang members, welders, Navajo shepherds, assembly line workers in Chicago, chess players, as well as many others involved in a wide variety of activities.
So flow isn’t about a particular kind of activity – rather, it has to do with our way of participating in whatever the activity may be. Something that was common to all those who experienced "flow" – and which seems central to having the flow experience – is being able to give yourself completely to what you’re doing, while letting go of all concern about your "self".
The "self" you’re letting go of is the configuration of desires, fears, hopes, etc. on the rim of your "wheel of awareness"with which you you identify.
As you shift your attention away from those desires, fears, etc., it becomes anchored in your core. It is this anchoring of attention in the core while being engaged in action that gives the experience of flow.
Many athletes have described similar experiences while in the midst of a particularly intense moment of a game. The basketball player Bill Russell describes it this way:
Every so often a Celtic game would heat up so that it would become more than a physical or even mental game, and would be magical. That feeling is difficult to describe, and I certainly never talked about it when I was playing. When it happened I could feel my play rise to a new level… At that special level all sorts of odd things happened….It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion. During those spells I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken. Even before the other team brought the ball in bounds, I could feel it so keenly that I’d want to shout to my teammates, ‘It’s coming there!’ – except that I knew everything would change if I did. My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but all the opposing players, and that they all knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine.
Coming Home to the Core
It’s not necessary to be an accomplished artist or athlete in order to contact the core. Nor is it necessary to practice mindfulness or heart-centering. The fact is, throughout the day there are many moments (though often all-too-brief) when we spontaneously let go of self-concern and come back to the hub. These moments might include stopping to take in the beauty of a sunset, having a particularly intimate conversation with a good friend, or simply sitting back to enjoy a piece of music.
Many people describe the experience of coming back to the core as an experience of "coming home". No matter where we are or whom we’re with, the spacious, heartful awareness of the core can embrace the moment with a deep feeling of ease. The more we come back to our core – the more we "remember to breathe" – the more "at home" we feel in the world.
'Remember to Breathe' adds to the Heart Breathing Moving Meditation: