This Simple Exercise Can Guide You Through Your Hardest Times
Breathe through your feet? The author of Fear Less explains that, yes, it can help.
By Dean Sluyter
Suppose you're in a conference with your soon-to-be ex and a couple of divorce lawyers. Or you're waiting for the doctor to call with the results of your biopsy. Or you're sweating through your third week of sobriety and trying hard to hang on. Or you're on your umpteenth morning commute and feeling your road rage approach the boiling point. Or you're in the dentist's chair, bracing yourself for the root canal...
Those are some seriously unpleasant situations. And what I'm going to suggest might seem like a completely unserious way to address them. In fact, it might seem almost insultingly simple. But appearances can be deceiving. In the immortal words of Spinal Tap, "It's such a fine line between stupid and, uh, clever." So give it a try for yourself.
Breathe through your feet.
That's it, essentially. Simple, but let's break it down:
Bring your attention to the soles of your feet. You might notice that this completely ordinary act of attention takes no effort—as soon as you think of it, it's already happening. You might also notice that it involves a combination of feeling and subtle visual imagining, which you've done all your life. If I say, "Left ear," you immediately imagine-feel your left ear, with no effort or learning curve required.
Now, breathe normally, but each time you breathe in, imagine-feel that you're breathing in through the soles of your feet. Each time you breathe out, imagine-feel that you're breathing out through the soles of your feet. That's all. I'm sure you've already heard that sitting and meditating every day is an excellent way to reduce anxiety, but in case you're not there yet, this highly portable strategy doesn't require any sitting at all, and you can put it to use right away. Don't worry about how fast or slow or deep or shallow your breathing is, or whether your breathing pattern stays the same or changes. Don't strain to concentrate or focus. Don't try to push away thoughts or sounds or anything else. Don't try to feel any special way. Just breathe through your feet and let everything else be however it is.
Please take a few moments to practice this right now.
. . . . . . . . .
Okay. Welcome back.
You may notice that you feel a little less stuck in your head, in the buzzing of thoughts and feelings. Perhaps there's some sense of being more grounded, centered or refreshed. If you're not sure, that's fine too. Meditative experience (which is what this is) is constantly changing, and we don't worry about whether it seems subjectively "good" or "bad" in any given session.
Now, as you go through your day, you can come back from time to time to this practice of breathing through your feet. Be creative about using it in different places and situations. This is your new toy. Anytime you like, you can pull it out of your pocket and play with it: when you're stopped at a red light, standing in line, waiting for a movie to start, working at your computer. Tune in to the technique and get familiar with it when things are fairly relaxed and uneventful.
Then, when the stress hits the fan, you're ready. Even as your plane encounters turbulence or you're nervously waiting for the job interview or you're getting the phone call from the Bad-News Boyfriend, you can breathe through your feet and fear less. You've practiced the drill and you're ready for the fire. Feelings of worry or anger will still arise. Don't try to suppress those feelings, but don't act on them either. Don't fixate on them or try to distract yourself. The feelings are just there, like everything else: the temperature of the air, the color of the walls or the sky. You have to breathe anyway, so just breathe through your feet and you may notice that you're not quite as tightly gripped by the stressful feelings as you were before.
When you go to bed tonight, you may enjoy falling asleep while breathing through your feet. If you normally toss and turn, you may find that this technique makes sleep a smoother cruise, and if you wake up in the night, you can just cruise some more.
Adapted from Fear Less: Living Beyond Fear, Anxiety, Anger, and Addiction, by Dean Sluyter, copyright © 2018. Published by TarcherPerigee, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.