Convict Chronicles: Tip #21: Breathe Easy

By Leo Cardez

Adapted from Yoga Magazine 2020, Pam O’Brien

There is a medical term called heart rate variability, or HRV, which stands for the variability of time between heartbeats. There’s significant research demonstrating a correlation between better HRV (more variety in the length of time from one heartbeat to the next) and improved mood, enhanced focus, better sleep, boosted energy, and more resilience overall. Anyone would benefit from better HRV—and fortunately, anyone can … with a little practice.

Here’s the secret habit to a better HRV:
Take two minutes (the average commercial break in your favorite show) and start by inhaling through your nose for four seconds—mentally count while focusing on the sensation of the air flowing in through your nostrils. Now, without pausing, exhale for six seconds through your pursed lips—as if you are blowing on hot food. Again, count mentally as you focus on feeling the air through your mouth.

You may notice an immediate feeling of both relaxation and alertness. Work your way up to 20 minutes a day, twice a day. I have been adding one minute a week and am up to 10 minutes twice a day. The biggest and most immediate result I have noticed is my ability to fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake up more refreshed. I have always had sleep issues, especially since my incarceration—this is the first thing that’s actually worked.

Beyond the aforementioned benefits, there are additional perks to a stronger, lower baseline heartbeat. For example, for workout junkies, they may note less effort exerted to achieve the same results. Also, there’s a second wind effect, which means they may be able to go longer and stronger.

Also, as the breathing exercises push more blood to our muscles, our biggest “muscle” benefits the most. More blood flow to the brain can mean greater clarity, concentration, and focus. The reduced stress will also help us make better, more rational decisions. Some researchers are studying the seeming reduction of degenerative cognition as we age in some study participants.

So there you have it: This brain hack is a no-brainer, but you have to stick to it. From my experience, I recommend gradually adding time to how long you practice breath exercises each day. I have found more benefits the more time I am able to commit to it daily; I think it’s the best return on investment we can ask for in prison.

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