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Take a deep breath

Are you stressed? The best way to get your thoughts in order is to learn how to breathe correctly. Mind coach and author Kjell Enhager explains how.

Kjell Enhager is fascinated by breathing. Not just the act of breathing itself but, above all, how it can improve our well-being. As a leadership consultant and practitioner of meditation for 40 years, he uses breathing techniques both in his work and his private life. “If you want to be able to calm yourself whenever you want, you need to be in control of your thoughts and your breathing. If you breathe from the abdomen, it is almost impossible to feel stressed,” says Enhager over the phone after touching down at Landvetter airport in Gothenburg.

He spends a lot of time on planes in his job as a mind coach to executives, elite athletes and artists. Up in the sky, he often takes the opportunity to focus on his breathing and to meditate. “Then I turn all my attention inwards by using conscious breathing. When thoughts come into my mind, I register them as thoughts and then let them glide away like clouds in the sky. Then I focus once again on my breathing,” says Enhager, who tries to meditate for 20 minutes each day. In high pressure situations, focusing on our breathing can help us retain our composure and perform better, says Enhager whose clients include the Swedish national dressage team.

Using his breathing techniques, many of the riders have noticed an improvement in communication with their horse and in their performance. In equestrian sports the emotional interaction between horse and rider is critical. If the rider is nervous, the horse will pick up on it. Nervousness is most easily addressed through breathing.

“In tense situations a person’s breathing becomes slightly forced and nervous, which the body interprets as meaning danger,” Enhager explains. “This, in turn, triggers the body’s primeval fight-or-flight reaction, with adrenaline pumped through our bodies in response to a perceived threat. Because that hormone has a smell, the horse will be able to smell that the rider is nervous. Now, some nervousness and adrenaline is good in a competitive context; it provides mental focus and increases our endurance and ability to perform. However, it is very important to be able to control your breathing so that the brain stays alert and the body calm. “When you are nervous, you tend to focus on things outside of yourself – things you can’t control. If you focus on your breathing, you can keep your mind and body functioning at their best, and that gives you a feeling of control."

Four tips for better breathing - Kjell Enhager's best advice

  • Close your mouth! Breathing through your nose is essential.
  • Extend exhalation. Exhaling is linked to relaxation, like breathing out when the danger has passed. Take a conscious breath by lengthening the exhalation: you will slow down your tempo, and fill the lower parts of your lungs.
  • Try to exercise – running, for example – with your mouth closed. You will breathe more easily and this will give you more energy and a feeling of balance.
  • If you want, you can try to tape your mouth at night. It sounds strange but it works wonders. When we breathe through our mouths, we can begin to hyperventilate and deprive the body of oxygen and vital recovery.

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