Raising awareness within oneself is often the first step taken if one wishes to become more aware to one’s surroundings and to life itself. Can’t know anything outside of us if we’re out of touch with our own selves.
A simple way to begin a practice like this is to just pay attention to, and switch up routine things about ourselves.
For example, if you are right-handed, begin to do some things with your left hand; such as brushing your teeth, combing your hair or shaving. Reach for things with your non-dominant hand, and just notice what it’s like to do that and how it feels.
Look at how your feet are pointed as you’re walking or standing still. If necessary, gently correct the alignment by re-positioning your feet so that they are pointed straight ahead as you walk or stand still. Your hips and spine will thank you for this, too. Just notice, and gently correct and then see how it feels to walk and stand in this adjusted manner.
Last but never least is the breath.
Notice the depth of your breath throughout your day. Especially during any anxious moments. Can you notice your breath?
The breath is both a barometer/indicator and a tool that can be used to calm the nervous system. If you notice that your breath is shallow, simply make a point to pay attention to the length of your breath and try to lengthen your exhale to be double the time of your inhale. For example, if you count your inhale at four seconds, lengthen your exhale to eight seconds. And then see if you can notice what its like to do that, and how you feel after watching your breath and lengthening your exhale for a few minutes. Do this throughout your day, especially during anxious moments and just notice what its like and if there is any difference in how you feel during and afterwards.
These are some basic steps to become more self-aware.
As these are practiced, see if you begin noticing any difference in your awareness within yourself, and also outside of yourself; of your surroundings and of other people.
Controlling your anxiety and nervousness can be helped by simply lengthening your exhale.
Hacking your Vagus Nerve simply by using your breath and a lengthened exhale can help against stress responses, and will improve your Heart Rate Variable.
During an inhale, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates a very brief acceleration of the heart rate. During an exhale, the Vagus Nerve secretes a transmitter substance which causes a deceleration of the heart rate via the parasympathetic nervous system.
For example, a yoga practice instructs us to focus on the breath; specifically on the exhale. Using just the breath alone, one can lower one’s heart rate, which will in turn help to bring down anxiety levels, and help with agitation and general stress. Pranayamic breath work has been in use successfully in many ways for thousands of years around the world for the exact same reason. Almost every couple of years, fresh research corroborates that each of us can trigger our “rest and relax” parasympathetic nervous system to bring about a relaxation response , simply by focusing on the inhalation-to-exhalation ratio of our breathing and consciously extending the length of each exhale while doing breathing exercises as we go about our day-to-day lives. This allows us to focus more clearly, pay closer attention to someone or something, and allows us to be much more “present” in our lives with others. Immensely helpful in any situation.
Using these respiration patterns frequently (slowed and with longer exhalations) can explain a significant part of the efficacy found within contemplative activity practice. Though contemplative activities are diverse, they have shown a similar pattern of beneficial effects on health, mental health, and cognition: mostly in stress-related conditions and performance. This pattern can be explained by these controlled breathing exercises.
An easy way to test this and integrate it into your daily life is to use the 4:8 breathing cycle.
Inhale deep and long for four seconds, then exhale deep and long for 8 seconds. This should come out to about 5 cycles per minute.
Any time you’re feeling stressed out or anxious, try 2 minutes of Vagus Nerve Breathing, or about 10 rounds of the 4:8 inhale/exhale cycles. Just see for yourself how you feel afterward.