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Black Men Breathing with Purpose: Mental Health Transformations

A simple tool that I’ve found to be very helpful in my struggle with anger and anxiety is the power of intentional breathing. Intentional breathing, also known as mindful breathing or deep breathing is a simple yet profound practice that involves consciously regulating your breath to bring about a state of relaxation and focus. By directing our attention to  the rhythm of our breath, we can tap into the body’s natural ability to  reduce stress and promote mental well being. Research has shown that intentional breathing has a direct impact on our nervous system, specifically the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for  activating the body’s relaxation response. When we engage in slow, deep breaths, we signal to our brain that it’s safe to relax, leading to decreased heart rate, lowered  blood pressure, and reduced levels of stress hormones like cortisol. 

 Cortisol is a stress hormone that may be linked to negative health outcomes for Black men. For example, African American youth who experience elevated anxiety levels due to everyday struggles may overproduce cortisol.High cortisol levels can impact memory and learning, lower immune function, reduce bone density, cause increased weight gain, and raise blood pressure and cholesterol. It has been blamed for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, and shortened life spans.

 Many of us have dealt with the difficult and challenging transition in an environment that is not friendly to us, where opportunities are systematically blocked. Coupled with low safety, low job opportunities and high poverty we must at all cost adopt techniques that can mitigate the effects of this system. As a Black man who has survived prison and addiction, myself, I understand the stress and pressure that  we are under on a day to day basis.  For a long while., I have been on a journey of self-renewal and intentional breathing has been a key element in  that process. Like Fabolous , you gotta breathe.

 Intentional breathing is not just a temporary fix for stress; it’s a lifelong tool that empowers you to take charge of your mental well-being. By incorporating this practice into your daily routine, you can cultivate resilience, improve focus and concentration, and enhance overall quality of life. 

 Here are a few easy techniques that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine, it requires no equipment and can be practiced anywhere.



Morning Routine: Box Breathing

Start your day on a calm and centered note by practicing box breathing. Here's how to do it:

    Find a comfortable seated position or lie down flat on your back.

  • Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four seconds, filling your lungs with air.

  • Hold your breath for another count of four seconds, maintaining a steady and controlled pause.

  • Slowly exhale through your mouth for four seconds, releasing any tension or stress.

  • Hold your breath again for four seconds before starting the cycle anew.

  • Repeat this sequence for several minutes, focusing on the rhythmic pattern of your breath and allowing yourself to enter a state of deep relaxation

                             



Midday Stress Relief: 4-7-8 Breathing

Combat the afternoon slump and alleviate stress with the 4-7-8 breathing technique:

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight or lie down if possible.

  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to four.

  • Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds, allowing the oxygen to circulate throughout your body.

  • Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth, counting to eight seconds as you release all the air from your lungs.

  • Repeat this cycle three to four times, feeling the tension melt away with each exhalation and experiencing a renewed sense of calm and focus.



Evening Wind Down: Progressive Muscle Relaxation with Breath

Prepare your body and mind for restful sleep by combining intentional breathing with progressive muscle relaxation:

  • Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can lie down without any distractions.

  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to settle into your surroundings.

  • Starting from your toes, tense the muscles in your feet and hold for a few seconds before releasing the tension as you exhale.

  • Move upwards, progressively tensing and relaxing each muscle group in your body, including your calves, thighs, abdomen, chest, arms, and face.

  • Coordinate your breath with each muscle contraction and release, inhaling deeply as you tense and exhaling fully as you relax.

  • Continue this process until you've worked your way through your entire body, feeling a sense of deep relaxation and readiness for a peaceful night's sleep.

These intentional breathing practices can be seamlessly integrated into your daily routine, offering moments of calm and clarity amidst the busyness of life. Experiment with each technique and discover which resonates most with you, allowing yourself to reap the countless benefits of mindful breathing throughout your day.

 In conclusion, intentional breathing is a game-changer when it comes to mental health. So why wait? Start incorporating this powerful practice into your daily routine and watch as it transforms your life from the inside out. Remember, with each breath, you have the opportunity to choose peace and resilience. Embrace it fully, and let your journey to wellness begin.

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