Breathing even at red lights.

Updated: Apr 13

In workshops, I’ve asked, “what do traffic lights do?” People will say “direct traffic,” “tell you when to stop,” “make people stop and Go,” and “prevent accidents.”

Well, what traffic lights do is, light up, in colours, at intervals. Generally, carefully programmed intervals, and generally in the colours green, red and amber. What we do in response to traffic lights…might regulate traffic and the other things. But all the light does, if you're somewhere in the world where they’re called robots, all the robot does is, cycle through pre-programmed light changes.

Amber was introduced well after the red and green. Now when we see amber we intuit that as a visual cue to slow down, or to get ready for a change. There's something to be said for the pause, for slowing down, for moving into readiness for what comes next.

Breathing is like that too. Generally, there's a pause between the inhale and exhale, sort of a plateau before the breath turns.

I love the traffic light practice. It's short, it's easy and I mean, what else am I going to do at that red light except wait (in exasperation, more often than I’d like to admit) for it to change?

This practice reframes the lights for me - instead of seeing the wait as an annoying interruption, it's an opportunity to practice. Brief practices add up over time. With practice, a pattern becomes reflexive, and then...

When I want to get myself into more of a green light state - I can take, Even Breaths.

For alert awareness - I can do Box Breaths.

When I'm feeling that I need to stop, to calm The Hitch Breath is a lifeline.

Green, amber, red. All the traffic light does is cycle through coloured lights at programmed intervals.

The Practice

Hitch Breath - In the Physiological Literature it's called the physiological sigh and research on its effect goes back decades.

Two inhales through the nose and an exhale either through the mouth or the nose.

In, in, out.

Box Breath - Said to be used by Elite Teams in live fire situations to maintain alert awareness.

Make the inhale, the exhale and the pause in between the same length.

Only do what's comfortable when you're starting out ( try for a count of two at first) and increase the count as it gets easier to do. Like increasing the weight on a lifting exercise.

If you're using a four-count it goes like -

Exhale, 2, 3, 4, and inhale 2, 3, 4,

Hold 2 3, 4, breathe out 2, 3, 4, hold 2, 3, 4.

And in 2, 3, 4, and pause 2, 3, 4....

Even Breaths

Start with the exhale and then inhale for the same count.

Exhale out I am, breathing out, inhale in. I am breathing in.

Hitch, box, even and that's it. Red , amber, green.

It's wonderful to give yourself a chance to practice. It's wonderful to find small moments to practice in. It's wonderful to be able to move your practice from traffic to the rest of life.

Be gentle with you. Keep breathing.

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