- Unexpected Breaththroughs, Reverse Flow Walking & Caring
Unexpected Breaththroughs, Reverse Flow Walking & Caring
🤸♀️ Stretch 37
Early morning writing spot
Writing to you from spirited Marrakesh, Morocco.
(Lots of space to look up, far and wide—so my kinda place! )
🤸♀️ IN THIS WEEK'S STRETCH:
Unexpected breaththroughs. My breathwork playbook + free app recommendation.
Reverse flow walking. A way to get out of your head, and into your body.
Caring what people think, thinking that people care. Musings on this evolutionary quirk of ours.
🌬 MY BREAKBREATHTHROUGH
That simple? Something I’ve had access to this entire time? That’s what’s turning out to work so well for me, making me feel relaxed, engaged, and connected?
I really feel like I’ve had some sort of breakbreaththrough (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in the past two months.
I haven’t felt this calm, focused, and motivated in a while—at least not for this long.
So what changed?
Something ridiculously simple:
Less thinking. More breathing.
As soon as I spot an unhelpful, repetitive, or self-sabotaging thought, I know what to do:
Focus on my breath.
I don’t try to think my way through. I don’t resist. I don’t argue. I don’t feel bad for myself.
I just focus on the air going in and out through my nose, the slow rise and fall of my belly.
And that does feel unnatural at first.
We’re so conditioned to believe that “more thinking” is the answer to everything.
If I’m not thinking, I’m not progressing. I’m not learning. I’m not coming up with solutions and plans, and ideas.
How the hell can focusing on my breath be helpful right now?
I’ve thought about this (yes, I do see the irony there), and a few reasons have come up for me:
The biggest one: the physiological impact. By focusing on deepening and lengthening your breathing, you’re stimulating 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.)
Then there are the mental and emotional benefits:
You’re more present. As soon as you focus on your breath, you don’t have a choice but to stop planning and thinking. The mind is distracted, but the body is not.
You feel connected to your body. It sounds silly, but honestly, try it. Reminding yourself you have a body, noticing and paying attention to what it feels like, makes you feel more energetic and more alive.
You get a sense of agency and forward motion. You feel like you have control, and you don’t need external input as much. All you need is your breath, which is always with you.
And then, for me, maybe the most exciting one of all because the effects have been so apparent: the difference in creativity and decision-making.
Instead of forcing my brain to come up with ideas or solutions in the moment, I let go. By focusing on the breath, the mind relaxes. Then I get up and go do something else. It might take a few minutes or hours, sometimes even a few days, but the right idea or the solution always comes (without the usual turmoil!)
📒 My Breathwork Playbook
Okay, if you’re still reading and you’re intrigued, I’ve written out what I’ve been doing.
(And you’ll see: this isn’t about sitting still for hours focusing on my breath. It’s about simple breath awareness and a few breathing exercises as I’m going through my day.)
In the night:
I tend to wake up a couple of times throughout the night—often with a fast heartbeat and shallow breathing. I have no idea why. I don’t even need to feel particularly stressed. Instead of tossing and turning, I focus on taking very deep and very slow breaths. At the same time, I "think of the black." I focus on staring into the black space and letting myself "fall" into the darkness. It's a strange feeling, but it works every time.
In the morning:
When I wake up, my breathing is all over the place again. So I take a few minutes to just lie there and focus on, you guessed it: deep and slow breaths. With my hand on my chest, I can feel my heartbeat slowing down.
(General rule of thumb: If you want to speed up your heart rate, inhale longer and more vigorously relative to your exhales. If you want to slow down your heart rate, make your exhales longer and more vigorous than your inhales.)
I’ve now made it a non-negotiable to meditate every single day (and I try to do it before noon, or else it doesn’t happen.) The benefits are now so well-proven by scientific research that it’s kinda crazy not to take 10 minutes out of your day to do it.
There are many different meditation techniques, but a very common and simple one is to pay attention to your breath. The moment you notice you’re lost in thought, you simply bring back your focus on the breath.
You don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to change how you breathe. You just pay attention to the breath going in and out.
I’ve been building this habit on and off for the past two years, but as I said, from now on… non-negotiable every day, for at least 15 minutes.
Ahhhh, the infamous afternoon slump. My loyal companion.
I don’t beat myself up over it anymore. Instead, I welcome it with open arms. “Bring it on!”
Depending on the severity of the situation, I rely on a few tools:
🌶 → Box Breathing. 5-second inhale, 5-second hold, 5-second exhale, 5-second hold x 5-10 minutes. This intentional, deep breathing pattern helps you focus your mind. (Famously used by Navy Seals for keeping cool in high-pressure situations.)
🌶🌶 → Up-regulating exercises. Forms of deliberate hyperventilation that will release adrenaline and make you feel alert. Here’s my list of go-tos.
🌶🌶🌶 → NSDR or Non-Sleep-Deep-Rest: It's not a nap, and it's not meditation. It's a combination of body scan and exhale-emphasized breathing, bringing the brain and body into a state of deep relaxation. You go into this conscious sleep-like state, shown to restore energy and dopamine levels. I keep going back to this 23-minute session (I’ve downloaded the audio from YouTube so I can listen to it wherever I am and can fall asleep without getting woken up by loud YouTube ads.)
24 yo me: stay in bed, order food, watch Netflix, feel like crap all day.
34 yo me: Wim Hof breathing exercise, get up, cold shower, go outside to get sunlight as quickly as I can.
I mean—I still feel crappy, but not nearly as bad!
Throughout the day:
It’s wild how quickly the brain learns (ahhh, the beauty of neuroplasticity!)
After just two months, it’s become automatic to have a near-constant awareness of my breath.
This might sound like a lot, but surprisingly, it’s not annoying or distracting. It doesn’t require much mental effort or time.
To build the habit, you can start with just a few minutes of conscious breathing at any point in your day.
Set an alarm to remind you. Try to do it at the same time every day.
And if you’d like, use an app like Breathe. It’s free and extremely simple: you pick the breathing pattern you want, set a timer, and go.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on all of this so let me know in the comments!
🏃♀️ REVERSE FLOW WALKING
I’ve written before about how going for a daily walk is the most underrated brain and body exercise.
It’s also a great way to practice your mindfulness.
Instead of immediately turning on music or the latest podcast episode, you leave the headphones at home, and you focus on the walk—and nothing but the walk.
I’ve been experimenting with this technique I learned from John Nicholas: reverse flow walking.
This technique combines several great habits:
Using your vision as a mindfulness tool
Normal flow: You are moving forward toward the world. The trees, people, and objects in your view are stationary, and you are moving in their direction.
Reversed flow: You are moving forward, but you perceive the world as moving towards you. You are receiving the trees and people in your visual field as they are coming toward you.
It’s a strange sensation to focus on objects moving toward you versus the other way around.
I’ve found it really pulls me out of moving on autopilot and makes me look at objects around me in a new way.
🙅♀️ CARING WHAT PEOPLE THINK & THINKING THAT PEOPLE CARE.
Or any kind of mind, for that matter! (Spotted in a restaurant menu)
Something about this quote has always stood out to me:
“When you’re 20, you care what everyone thinks.
When you’re 40, you stop caring what everyone thinks.
When you’re 60, you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.”
We spend so much of our mental capacity on thinking and caring about what other people are thinking.
It’s annoying, but it is helpful to realize that it’s also entirely normal.
We're wired to care deeply about what other people think of us.
It's how our brains have evolved over thousands of years, and it had vital evolutionary purposes: survival, reproduction, and collaboration.
There's nothing inherently wrong with caring about what other people think.
But we do need to learn how to manage this evolutionary quirk of ours.
Overly worrying about other people can dramatically influence our life choices and hold us back from living our best lives.
It seems like such a waste to wait until you’re 60 until you can experience that kind of freedom of letting go of external expectations and influences.
To make the decisions we feel in our gut are the right ones, even if it disappoints or angers other people. To say what’s really on our minds, even if we know others won’t agree or approve.
So I’m working hard on defying time and getting to the point where I realize no one was ever thinking about me, well before I’m 60.
Books and podcasts. (They give you such an insight into other people’s psyches and how for most people, their reptile brain works in similar ways. My #1 recommendation: An Emotional Education by Alain de Botton.)
Learning about concepts like The Spotlight Effect—a term used by social psychologists to refer to the tendency we have to overestimate how much other people notice about us. In other words, we tend to think there’s a “spotlight” on us at all times, highlighting all of our mistakes or flaws, for all the world to see.
And then… writing online! The biggest hack of all. You simply don’t have a choice but to stop caring about other people’s opinions if you ever want to get a word published.
My question to all the +40 and +60 yo’s here—any other tips for this 34 yo? 😉 (Share in the comments!)