“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
Last week I was met with a flu that challenged my immune system to its fullest extent. I had a fever of 103.7 and felt like I had gotten rolled over somehow! It was tough, but on many levels it brought great excitement to see what my body was doing. It was reacting the exact way it should with a fever, with sweating, no appetite; my body was working. As I went in to get my vitals taken, I immediately felt a rise in heartbeat. I was stressed and concerned as this was my first challenge since the transplant. I sat down for the nurse to take my blood pressure and it was high. I asked her to give me 1 minute. I closed my eyes and envisioned my breath going deep into the back of my lungs, slowing down the flow of my blood, giving it a chance to take with it all that would cause this affect. Following my breath into my belly, then to my upper chest I could feel it moving in several different directions, filling pockets that had not been met that day. Finally, filling my entire back body (back of lungs which is where the majority of our lung space exists).
I then opened my eyes and she rechecked the blood pressure as she noticed my heart rate retreated right into normal range. “Wow, you need to teach me how to do that.” said the nurse as my pressure was in perfect range. That was the best I felt all day. It is amazing what a gift our breath really is and how much health can be brought forward when we relearn how to breathe. This is also an opportunity to go to deeper places in your connection with spirit.
During each yoga class I always focus on breath. It is so crucial to bring our awareness back to a space that honors the very life force that keeps us alert and alive. Prana in sanskrit means life force or vitality, yama means to extend or stretch. Sharing the ideal that this life force is an extension of our always moving vitality.
Our breath is something that most people do not think twice about during the day or night, unless they are having a problem. Breathing is such a subconscious act that most of us have forgotten the importance of doing it properly. I can not begin to share how many students have thought how silly when I ask is your breathing being maximized?
We have become shallow breathers or chest breathers due to the significant amount of stress that we invite into our world. Much like we have lost the art of eating slowly, enjoying our food as we are rushing to the next thing.
Our breath is directly connected to our consciousness and immediately reflects our thoughts and feelings. When we are relaxed and calm we breathe slowly, evenly and deeply into the bigger, bottom part of our lungs. This is called abdominal breathing or belly breathing. Our lungs are shaped like pears – small at the top and big at the bottom. When we breathe into the bottom of our lungs we get much more oxygen from each breath because the lungs are bigger and there are more blood vessels in this large part of the lungs. We use our diaphragm muscle to take deep breaths. The diaphragm is between your chest and abdominal area and in contracts and pulls down on the lungs to bring air in and relaxes and pushes up to expel air out of the lungs. When we are breathing in this way out tummy expands when we inhale and falls when we exhale. Our shoulders and upper chest do not move.
The moment we become anxious, worried, frightened, stressed, alarmed or feel threatened in any way our breathing changes. The diaphragm becomes rigid, and we begin breathing in the upper, smaller part of our lungs. Our breath becomes uneven, shallow, rapid and often we hold our breath as well. This can happen whether there is an external danger or just from thoughts and feelings in our inner world.
As you become more aware of your breath you will begin to notice how even a troubling thought can cause your breath to change. There are so many events that can cause a shift in your breath which is why it is so important to re-learn how to breath properly. Many will think well I can just take a deep breath as I see this happen I witness shoulders move toward the ears and this deep breath is being taken from the chest. At some point in time we all have become the chest breather. It is life changing to spend 2 minutes a day feeling the strength and liveliness that comes from a full belly breath. Watch a baby breathe, you will be amazed how far their little belly extends.
As their are many breathing techniques available to all of us, start with the belly breath. Remember your lungs are muscular in nature and need a work out too!
The goal should be to breathe this way all of the time.
Here are the step-by-step instructions:
Sit in a chair, stand, or lie on your back. Just begin to bring awareness to relaxing or releasing any tension around the jaw, shoulders, and neck. Try to calm your mind. Forget about what you’re going to make for dinner tonight, the emails you still have to respond to, and the long to-do list that you have created at lunch. As thoughts creep into your mind, don’t force them away just know that they will be there when you are done and gently send them away.
Proper posture gets air into your lungs and helps energy flow through your body. Sit up straight, imagining a string lifting up your chest. You should feel the area between your chest and your navel lengthen. As you improve your posture, you may find your muscles tensing up, especially around the abdomen. Consciously try to release any tension from your body.
Place one hand flat against the abdomen, your thumb should be around your navel, and breathe in through your nose at an even rate. Allow your abdomen to expand, rather than your upper chest. You should feel the hand on your abdomen being pushed away from your body as your abdomen rises.
Inhale through your nose, a slow count of three and exhale out your mouth a slow count of six. Let your breath be free from judgment and completely uninhibited. Again, count silently. Exhalation should take about twice as long as inhalation and you should feel a stillness in your body that is calming and welcomed.
1. One minute breath
Inhale a count of 20 seconds
Hold breath for 20 seconds
Exhale for 20 seconds
Start off using a count of 8 or 10 working your way up to 20 seconds
2. The 4-7-8
This exercise is requires you to sit with your back straight with the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue.
Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of 7.
Exhale completely through your mouth making a whoosh sound.
3. Stimulating breath
The Stimulating Breath is adapted from a yogic breathing technique. Its aim is to raise vital energy and increase alertness.
Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed, but relaxed. Notice that you are breathing into your belly not your chest. Your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy exercise that offers quick movement of the diaphragm. Try for three in/out breath cycles per second, breathing normal after each cycle. If done properly, you will feel invigorated, reaching a heightened state of awareness.
There are many other breathing exercises that will help you regain a relationship with breath. But just starting with a full breath will bring great change and energy to your path.
Much love and light!