LSD Breathing, Five Senses Journaling & Movement = Creativity
🤸♀️ Stretch 33
Those who’ve been reading Stretch for a while know that I’ve been running a monthly Creative Experiment for the past 16 months.
I’ll reflect on my April breathing experiment in a moment, but first, a quick note on my next experiment, as it impacts you as a reader:
In May, I’ll be sending out a Stretch Letter every week instead of every 2 weeks.
A weekly cadence is full-on, but it’s been on my mind for a while. And as my tagline for the Year of Creative Experiments is “I wonder what would happen if…”, I feel like I need to give it a try. If I don’t like it, I can always switch back.
🌶 Hot tip: Asking yourself, “I wonder what would happen if…” is a magical unlock when there’s something you’ve been thinking about. It instantly eases the pressure and lowers expectations, transforming the project into a playful experiment. If it doesn’t work out, no biggie. You were only wondering anyway. Give it a try!
✌️ P.S.: If you feel like hearing from me every-single-week is too much for you, I completely understand. I don’t check unsubscribe alerts and never look at my subscriber list. So if you feel like unsubscribing, feel free to do so at the bottom of the email.
🤸♀️ IN THIS WEEK'S STRETCH:
Breath Awareness. You need to breathe LSD (The psychedelic?!)
Five Senses Morning Pages. A simple journaling tip to get out of your head.
Creativity = Movement. The ultimate productivity hack.
💨 BREATH AWARENESS: BREATHING LSD
My April Creative Experiment was a bit different.
I needed a break from all the online, “head-y” stuff. The goal was to take my attention OUT of my mind, and INTO my body.
The experiment was focused on a program from the book called The Oxygen Advantage.
Technically, the experiment failed miserably.
I stuck with the program for about 4 days.
Without going into detail, I basically had to do 3 × 10 mins breathing exercises per day. Morning, afternoon, evening.
Habits-guru James Clear would shake his head in disappointment.
#1 rule when starting a new habit is:
Start small and build up slowly.
Safe to say, I did not succeed in going from 0 to 30 minutes of breathing exercises from one day to the next.
I still consider the experiment wildly successful for two reasons:
Reason 1 — A deep fascination with the breath.
I'm stunned both by how much there is to learn about the breath and how practical the exercises are.
I've already found myself using the tools to destress, focus, feel energised and even sleep better.
(Yes, I’m a bit of a course groupie 🙈 And yes, the naming of these courses could use some originality!)
So yes, expect lots more breathwork-related content coming your way.
This is not woo-woo-beads-and-sandals-only stuff anymore. This is all based on peer-reviewed studies coming from reputable institutes, showing the immense benefits of “deliberate respiration protocols.”
Reason 2 — A nearly constant awareness of my breath
Reminding myself of my experiment several times per day has made me very aware of my breathing.
I wake up and notice how my breath is often rapid and shallow. While working, I catch myself holding my breath (a phenomenon called e-mail apnea). When I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep, I focus on taking very deep, slow breaths. I also notice how I switch from nose to mouth breathing while out for a walk and pay attention to the sighs and the yawns.
This all sounds like a lot, but surprisingly, it’s not annoying or distracting. It doesn’t require much effort or time.
You can pay attention to your breathing while cooking or sitting behind your computer.
Even during conversation, you can listen with 90% of your attention and keep 10% of your attention on your breath.
If you do this for a couple of weeks, it becomes quasi effortless.
But anyway, back to the experiment.
Instead of trying to stick with the program, I’ve focused on the basics:
Developing a healthier breathing pattern throughout the day.
Healthy breathing has three simple dimensions:
Light, Slow and Deep.
To optimize these dimensions of healthy breathing, you should always breathe through the nose.
Let’s take a quick look at each dimension:
Starting with the foundation: nose breathing.
I’ve written before about the benefits of nose vs mouth breathing, so for this edition, let’s keep it simple:
Nasal breathing whenever possible.
This doesn’t mean you can never breathe through your mouth, of course, like during intense cardio or weight training or while doing certain breathwork exercises.
Breathing “heavily” expels too much carbon dioxide (CO2) on your out-breaths. CO2 is not just a waste product. You need it in your system. It’s the key that unlocks oxygen from your blood, releasing it for your brain, heart, and tissues throughout the body to use.
Slow breaths allow for air to stay in the lungs longer and travel down lower into your body. This allows for more time for gas exchange (O2 and CO2).
Slow breaths also trigger the vagus nerve—a long nerve that starts in your brain and travels through all your major organs. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it releases a chemical called acetylcholine. This chemical slows your heart down, activating your parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for feelings of calm and relaxation.)
It’s been shown that the ideal breathing rate is 5.5 breaths per minute.
That’s really, really slow. The average is 12-16 breaths per minute. I’m at about 14 right now. (You can start measuring this by wearing a Smartwatch or an Oura ring.)
I find it hard to imagine I could bring that down to 5.5 breaths per minute, but I guess, as with all things, everything’s possible with practice:
“5.5-second inhales followed by 5.5-second exhales, which works out almost exactly to 5.5 breaths a minute. The results were profound, even when practiced for just five to ten minutes a day.” - James Nestor in Breath
The common misconception of taking a “deep” breath is to puff out the chest and raise the shoulders, but this is neither deep nor helpful for oxygenating the body.
Think of deep breathing as breathing “far from the top.”
A truly deep breath is abdominal, gentle, and quiet. It should go past your chest all the way down into your diaphragm.
Your diaphragm is your primary breathing muscle, separating your chest from your abdomen. Using it helps with digestion, stabilization of the spine, and balancing the nervous system.
So that’s it. Breathe light, slow and deep.
This functional breathing pattern increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, stimulates the vagus nerve, and achieves optimal movement of the diaphragm—bringing an overall calmness to the body and mind.
💡 The big lesson for me here was:
When you’re new to all this breath stuff, bringing your attention to your breathing several times during the day will give you a much greater insight into your breathing than immediately setting aside 30 minutes for breathing exercises.
So start with LSD. Start with awareness and taking conscious control of your breathing.
Build up to incorporating exercises into your day.
Then begin with a couple of exercises.
There are so so so many techniques out there; it’s a bit overwhelming.
So to conclude my April experiment, I’ve created a very simple overview of my favorite go-to breathing exercises.
You can check it out here.
👂 5-SENSES MORNING PAGES
I’ve been reading the book Life in Five Senses by Gretchen Rubin and this gave me an idea one morning as I was journaling and felt my hand float hesitantly over the page. It’s like I was having so many thoughts, I couldn’t decide which one to put down first and felt stuck.
I started going through my five senses and just writing down my observations.
The taste of my coffee on my tongue.
The smell of wet plants in my friend’s garden.
The feeling of the cold tiles on my feet.
The feeling of the chair against my back.
The sounds of the birds and the cars.
A funny thing happens when you do that.
Your awareness expands. You go from being stuck in this little “me me me” bubble inside your head to suddenly seeing the wider environment you’re in. The world rushes in.
Our senses are the portal to NOW. It’s hard to be distracted or stressed when you’re focusing on your body and your sensations.
So here you go, another idea to write about in the morning.
Yup—I’ll keep bringing you ideas like this because it’s a hill I’m willing to die on:
Starting your morning with 5-10 minutes to write in a journal (vs drowning your thoughts in social media or Whatsapp) is life-changing.
💡 MOVEMENT = CREATIVITY
I’m always amazed by how creative I am during and after a walk or run.
It's funny how this continues to surprise me while the science is so clear:
Movement is vital for your brain to function and thrive.
The brain is an organ—the most metabolically demanding organ in your body. It receives its fuels via the vasculature system, so blood vessels and capillaries, and veins.
Movement increases blood flow to the brain.
Movement = Creativity.
It works wonders every single time, yet the next day, I have to drag myself away from the computer because “going for a walk right now doesn’t feel productive.” But to me, this has become the ultimate productivity hack.
So I’m trying to be super conscious about this and continually remind myself:
When working on something, instead of staring at your screen and forcing yourself to come up with an idea or a solution in the moment, write out a few initial thoughts in bullet points and go for a walk/run.
Take notes or record audio messages* as you’re moving.
Then go back and implement.
Walking = divergent thinking = creativity
Sitting = divergent thinking = focused problem-solving
As Nietzsche said, “Never trust a thought that didn't come by walking.”
*I used to use Otter.ai for this. I’ve now been using AudioPen and honestly, it’s incredible. You just ramble away, and AudioPen will rewrite your words in a clearly summarized text. It’ll cut out the ummmms and the you-knows and the likes. You can even ask it to rewrite in the style of your favorite authors, like Morgan Housel or Tim Urban. (Note, this is an affiliate link, but I would never share this unless I used and loved the product myself.)