I think am one of the few people these days who prefers to drive a manual car… I have only ever had one automatic and I really struggled with it… I know its supposed to be easier to drive and all but, I just couldn’t get to love the lack of control I had over the car… or maybe thats the control freak in me talking… either way I much prefer a manual… But what the hell does that have to do with health and wellbeing?
So I was driving the 40 minutes to work the other day and reflecting on how easy it is to get caught up in the traffic of life… the business… I have 2 kids ( 3 if you count my hubby) , I work as a High school teacher, I run my health coaching and consulting business, I play sport and do my best to stay fit, I coach sport, I support my family in their endeavors to be active and contributing members of the community in any way I can… and life is busy! Now that is not a sob story as to how much I have to fit into my life, I CHOOSE my life. I am in control of what I pack in or leave out of my day, I get to change the gears…and this is where my comparison between manual and automatic cars and health begins…
Our health is a complex integration of body systems and signals, some of which we have control over and some of which we don’t. Much like a car engine and driver, our body responds to the signals we are exposed to and that we send, the fuel we put in it and how well we have prepared our body for the tasks we ask of it. For example, as we drive our car we hear the engine revving, we see the road conditions and other cars, we have rules to follow, and we have a destination to get to, what determines the condition in which we arrive is up to us and how we choose to drive the car, what fuel we put in it, how well we focus and are aware of the road, and well we take car of the car…
Where I feel the real comparison lies here though is in the way we drive the car. When we are driving an automatic we just put our foot down and off we go, and we put our foot on the break to stop or slow down, an on or off and in some cases an all or nothing style approach. In a manual car we have to use the clutch to help control what is happening in the engine. Of course we have to know how to use the clutch or you stall the car, Bunny hop it, Burn out, or Bouge it ( what we country kids used to call it when you just rev the bejesus out of the engine because you changed to a gear too low) I see the clutch as our breath, and not just the oxygen we need to survive but its more about the way we breathe to help us control our our body and our mind and give us some control as to how we respond. Our clutch in particular is our outward breath. I want you to think about this….
During our day when something comes up that may put the pressure on, pushes our emotional buttons, takes more of our time than expected, or requires a burst of energy, we tend to take a BIG breath in. As we do our muscles increase in tension, our heart rate increases, our blood pressure increases and we have a release of hormones that will help to guide how our body manages these demands. How many of you can say that you remember that feeling…. Now here’s the thing… how many of you remember taking a BIG breath out afterwards? I will suggest that many of you cant, and that is because when we are put under the pump, we inhale large amounts but tend not to exhale in the same proportions. So what does this do… it increases a build of gaseous toxins in our lungs, and slows down oxygen exchange and leaves us in an acidic state whereby muscle tension, inflammation, hormonal responses and the like become toxic. Its no wonder that by the time we race out of work, get the kids to their after school activities, stop at the shops to grab what we need for a quick dinner, then we finally get home and we feel like S*^#t. At what point did you take a BIG breath OUT today?
It always makes we wonder when you hear people encourage you to take a big breath in. It happened to us as a staff group just the other day. Its a crazy time at school at the moment, HSC works, trial exams, mid term assessments, marking and reporting, plus the multitude of extracurricular activities that are happening, we have been and still are under the pump. Add to that the wave of illness that has hit our school and our homes. Schools can be a cess pit of germs, either our children or ourselves bring home. At one point my kids school sent an email home to encourage us to keep our kids home if they are showing sign of illness as there was close to 40% of the school population off sick that day. I am sure this is not unlike other workplaces and family situations. All of this adds to our daily stress and our family . Anyway, back to the point… we were encouraged as a staff to “take a breath and go gently” straight after the long list things coming up, and the to do and to get done was given. As I looked around the collective group I saw shoulders and eyebrows rise….. but they did not fall. The breath in was the brace & the framework for their day, and they all hurried off to get to their classes rattling off on about what they had to do that day… I wondered how many of them added “breathe out” to that list?
The beauty of breathing out is that we exhale a whole lot more than just gaseous toxins. When we breathe out it reduces muscle tension, slows heart rate, reduces blood pressure, reduces anxiety and stress and creates a more balanced environment within our bodies to function as it should. Not only that, if we take a BIG breath out, it creates a natural vacuum in our lungs whereby our inward breath occurs deeply and from the bottom of our lungs without focus or thought . Our lungs naturally hold a residual volume of air that functions to keep our Alveoli open for business (Alveoli are the millions of tiny little pockets in the lungs responsible for exchanging oxygen and Carbon dioxide – in with the good , out with the bad). When we breathe deeply we can create a turnover that improves the quality and oxygen content of that air that can improve our body balance function.
Try it… breathe out as deeply as you can. Slowly force all of the air from your lungs, and as you lower your shoulders, let your facial muscles relax, release the tension in your shoulders and hands, let the tension from your hips, legs, and feet go out with your breathe, pull your ribs down and contract your stomach muscles to force the last remaining air out… then hold for as 4 seconds… what happens next?
I am sure you will have noticed your automatic deep inhalation… but have a think about your posture, did you stand or sit up taller, did your shoulders come back, did your chin lift, did your back straighten…? then think about the breathe after that… how did it feel. Strong, did your stomach muscles assist the next exhalation? Did your body feel supported and was your tension reduced?
It is easy to drive an automatic, we allow the automatic transmission to take control, to change the gears to decide at what speed our engine is revving at, we just have to put on the breaks right… the problem here is that we are not prepared, we can be lulled into a sense of security in automation, our posture changes, we are not always ready for what we have to do… have a think about what you do when you have put on the breaks in your car suddenly. Think about those moments when you have to do it quickly… do you breathe in? Do you get a rush of adrenalin, and tension? How does it effect your driving? Do you bring that feeling and those actions into your day? The physiological response to this is not something that goes away quickly, so whether you like it or not you are bringing this into your day, so we must learn how to manage it in a healthy way.
What does that look like? Well, its starts with fueling the body right, the nutrients we put in effect the bodies functions and responses, just like the fuel in your car. Then we need to manage those functions and responses, we can use our breathe, like our clutch, we manage our energy levels, we can change gears, and we can focus and be aware. The funny thing is about life is that where we focus we travel… think about it… when you are driving along if your focus changes and you look elsewhere where will your car travel?… It will follow your gaze… what are you really focusing on…just something to think about. The reality is we are not in control of others on the road, and we cant change the condition of the road but we are in control of our car and how we drive it, and we must adjust to drive to the conditions, just like in life.
So today I encourage you to use your clutch… take a breath… But not just a breath in… focus on breathing out… especially in the moments when your under the pump, your emotional buttons are being pressed, where your time is pushed, where you energy is demanded… and see how your day drives.
Today I will be the driver in my life. I will not live life on automatic. I will use my clutch to change gears, control my speed and to allow my engine to rest. I will be strong enough to use my breaks when I need to and have enough energy to accelerate as required or desired. I will focus on where I want to go, reach my destination and achieve my goals. I will fuel my body well and know that I will have to adjust and drive to the conditions. Today I am the driver…