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Breathe like your life depends on it.

Human Capital

John Scott, Toronto


Human capital is the collective resources of an individual and the degree of capacity to bring them to bear for the highest good of all.


Intention: To help people optimize their human capital: more great, less grind.


Source: Life so far, a career in financial services, domains of positive psychology, high-performance sport, mindfulness, neuroscience, and compassion.


Insight Two: Breathe as your life depends on it.


The morning of June 28th, 2010, I turned on my phone, clicked on the Evernote app, and sat down to make some notes in my journal. The journal captured many of the day-to-day challenges, frustrations, irritants, and general tough stuff that I felt where in my life. At that time, I had two nasty healthy issues evolving and was exhausted. I sat there staring at the Evernote app, that little vertical cursor line flashing, waiting for me to start typing, like a tapping foot. As I was about to start typing, I thought that this couldn't be right. There must be a different way to do life than this.


I had been trying to be the best husband, best Dad, the best son to my Mom, and best Branch Manager I could, "wiring" that I see now was somewhat faulty: certainly not sustainable. Still looking at my Evernote app, I decided to start a new journal heading called Magical Moments and began to write most days about anything I noticed that was magical and made me happy.


My first entry was, "Sunday night putting Taylor to bed. She wasn't moving quickly, and I stayed calm (cause for recognition here just on that point!). She got her clothes ready for Monday and some gifts for her kindergarten teacher (end of school). Finally, teeth brushed, even that was fun and nice. She picked three books to read, her "favourites" and we read them, snuggled up closely. Kisses and hugs, partly playing and reading. Great, really great."


Choosing to hold back and take a new perspective was a pivotal and trajectory changing moment for me, feeling like I went from a mindset of madness to magical. That act of self - something … care, love, survival also moved me to look into my sleep, which was a mess and a diet lacking in protein after seeing a nutritionist. Both I fixed quickly. More energy and aliveness replaced exhaustion.


One of those stress-induced nasty health issues was an increasing frequency and severity of migraines. Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. Seek your medical advice. My GP sent me to see a specialist at St. Mike's Hospital, who said, "Yup, you have migraines with aura," and you can take some drugs that might help. Not satisfied, a friend suggested going to a naturopath. He gave me magnesium glycinate and vitamin B complex, which quickly reduced the migraines to rare, mild events. On the way out, he called after me and asked, "by the way, how do you breathe?' I stopped at the door, looked back, and asked, "What?"


That question and discussion led to learning to breathe better and the regular practice of meditation. Right now, try taking a few deep breaths. Breathe, so you know you're breathing. Feel the air pulled in through your nose, and feel your lungs expanding, notice the slight pause as your breathing transitions to an exhale. Then feel your lungs releasing, and the air flowing back out through your nose and notice the transition to another inhale.


On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute, 960 breaths/hour, 23,040 breaths/day, 8,409,600 a year, and so on until the last exhale. Breathing is life. Breathing in triggers our sympathetic (activation), and breathing out triggers our parasympathetic (relaxation response) nervous systems. A longer inhale than exhale activates the body, and a longer exhale than inhale relaxes the body. An even count on inhales and exhales promotes a balanced, focused feeling.


To get activated quickly, you could breathe in to the count of 6 and exhale to 4. To relax and get calmer, you could inhale to the count of 4 and exhale to 6. Various names refer to a technique to promote reduced stress, balance, and a requirement for focus: square breathing, 4 X 4, or as the military and first responders like to call it, tactical breathing. Square breathing entails breathing to the count of 4, holding for 4, exhaling for 4, and holding for 4. Of course, you can adjust these counts to your comfort and ease. Repeating these at least three times will do the trick.


The brain needs our care to be optimal, including a diet (the brain requires up to 30% of our resources), exercise, sleep, and getting skillful at managing our 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts, of which about 70% are negative. Focusing on breathing, even for 3 to 5 breaths, will quiet the sometimes storm of thoughts, reduce stress, and trigger our natural relax response. These are high-performance strategies that universities are teaching, the military uses, government, and athletes use.


I love these comments from a young girl describing deep breathing as a means to reduce stress, "It's kinda like if you had a jar of water and then the jar would be your brain and then you put glitter in the jar and then if you shook up the jar and the glitter went everywhere that would be how your mind works." And she continues, reflecting on the breathing practice she has learned, "It's like all the sparkles are at the bottom of your brain."


Be grateful for every breath!


May you be well. It's better that way,


John

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