Monday, December 11, 2017

Take a Deep Breath Already!

October 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Are you getting all you can from breathing? Chances are you might not be getting the most out of each inhalation and exhalation.

As an instructor of both yoga and meditation, perhaps the most important thing I teach people is how to breathe mindfully. It sounds crazy, but in my experience, most people who come into class are not actually taking a deep breath. Breathing happens automatically, so it’s easy to take it for granted and fail to attach any importance. However, when we apply a mindful approach to breath, real changes start to take place and our wellbeing improves.

You know that sensation of not being able to take a deep breath (or “catch it”) during times of anxiety? That is a real warning sign from your body that stress levels have surged to an unhealthy level. Shallow breathing (chest breathing) means that the bottommost lobes of the lungs are not inflating, thereby denying the body and mind the benefits of a full and complete breath cycle.

Group of three friends breathing deep fresh air on the beachDeep, diaphragmatic breathing is the key to wellness. Proper breathing brings more oxygen to the body and aids in regulating the nervous system. Moreover, it deepens concentration and strengthens the connection between the body and the mind. When done mindfully and properly, breathing has an overall calming effect on the mind and body.

As breathing is the only autonomic function over which we have conscious control, we possess tremendous power over controlling and improving the breath. Learning just a few breathing and meditation exercises could be the key to finding a sense of calm even in the midst of the gravest storm.

Here’s a quick test: Take a breath — did you suck your belly in as you took in air? If so, something needs to shift in order for you to get all the benefits you can out of the act of breathing.

To expand your breath and its relation to your wellbeing, start by closing your eyes and relaxing your jaw. Try to feel your gaze going inward. As you leisurely breathe in, allow the belly to expand like an inflating balloon. Feel the breath making its way to fill the entire lung over the course of a few seconds. As you exhale, draw the navel back in towards the spine, letting it assist in expelling the breath from the body.

It may take several rounds of trying mindful breathing before it starts to feel natural. Placing a hand on your belly will help you feel the rhythm of the rise and fall of your deep breaths. As the tempo becomes even, begin to notice the subtleties of the inhale and the exhale and then observe the different qualities of the two parts of the breath.

You can practice mindful breathing anywhere, at any time, and expect to feel benefits. Visualization helps you on that journey to mindful breathing. As you are taking the breath in, picture fresh oxygen flowing into all your cells — you are drawing in the energy you need at that moment in life! As you exhale, willingly let go of all that keeps you feeling tense in either body or mind. Picture it flying or floating away as health and clarity flood in.

Think of the breath as your first line of defense when making decisions or when greater concentration is required. Anytime you need a break from stress or have to deal with life in general as it comes at you, first take three deep breaths.

When an especially stressful situation arises, as it will at different points of this crazy life, don’t underestimate the power of three deep breaths before reacting. Perhaps the greatest benefit of meditation, which includes proper breathing, is that it helps us to be less reactive in life. As tensions elevate, we need to work with our bodies’ natural defenses instead of against them. When we look outside the body for something to calm us down, we are not honoring the natural systems designed to help us navigate our way through life and all its challenges.

There are hundreds of different breathing exercises that range from the very simple to the very complex (as in all things in life). There is a great deal of information about pranayama — the Sanskrit word for breath control — online, but finding a meditation class can be very helpful in really exploring breathing exercises.

The author is a yoga and meditation teacher and the owner of www.simplicityyogastudio.com/.

By Rosanne Sihler

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