One school day I was getting ready to cycle my kids to school. One of my favourite parts of the day is the ride in. Whatever the weather. The busyness of getting ready for school, the tired grumpiness of my kids, all of that evaporates once we get on the bike. It’s a lovely time. We chat. Wave to people we know. Point out changes in the high street or in the fields as we cycle through into the countryside.
That day I was going to do some writing in a cafe (well someone has to) after dropping the kids off so I needed to bring my computer. I didn’t have a rucksack so I borrowed my son’s tiny Spiderman one, I squeezed my arms through the narrow straps and set off.
As we turned out of our lane onto the road that would lead us through Marlborough Green, I started feeling anxious. I couldn’t work out what was making me so worried. It was the same route. The same order with my son on the back of my bike, my daughter on hers cycling behind me. Nothing had changed yet I was feeling a sense of dread and shakiness. My breath was shallow, my heart was beating faster.
I stopped half way and tried to work out what it was. Had I suddenly got a sense of how fragile we were on our bikes. Nothing had changed in that resect. I’m always aware of the cars around us. Was there something after drop off that was worrying me? Writing on my lap top in the Food Gallery… not exactly life or death.
And then I realised what it was.
I took off the rucksack and put it in the bike basket. My breathing deepened immediately. The panic, the sense of dread, the nervousness, the shaking legs and arms all of it disappeared.
Researchers have shown that even a false smile, simply moving the corners of the mouth upwards, can put someone in a better mood. In other words a change in a physical state can shift the mind from one emotion to another. This is exactly what happened to me on the bike. The rucksack straps were constricting my shoulders and ribs. My body was having to fight harder for breath. My mind registered the shallow, fast breathing, the lack of oxygen in the extremities of my body and translated them. Anxiety. I was anxious.
This is one of the main reasons why I love the breathing exercises in yoga. When we purposefully slow down and deepen the breath, it profoundly effects how relaxed we perceive ourselves to be. And this, in turn, means that we actually become more relaxed. So simple.