Breath, the most rhythmic force in the universe. Our ceaseless respiration sets the metronome for our entire existence; when we have fast, shallow, or stuttered breathing we are usually worried, anxious, stressed or emotionally traumatized. On the other hand, deep, steady, and slow breathing lends itself to states of relaxation, comfort and wellbeing. If there is one thing to help those with emotional pain, it is calm, centered, conscious breathing. Our breath acts as the bridge between our inner and outer world, and there is no better way to get in touch with ourselves than to observe our breathing and become aware of the sensations that occur with deep, relaxing breathing. Are you picking up on these hypnotic suggestions? Ok, I’ll be blunt, BREATHE DEEPLY. YOU ARE BECOMING VERRRRY REALXED….. GOOOOOD…..
Shallow breathing and states of anxiety go hand in hand and actually cause further anxiety to the effect of snowballing out of control. Think about it; you become stressed or angry at work or home for whatever reason. Your breath becomes stuck high in your chest, and remains shallow, fueling the fire of emotion that is rising within. Through continued shallow breathing, you become sluggish and fatigued, you have trouble focusing and concentrating, and find yourself becoming irritable more easily. This state of being will help to further trigger states of anxiety and stress, concluding the cycle and causing it to repeat all over again; anger, shallow breathing, fatigue and irritability, anger, shallow breathing, etc. The only way we can break free from this cycle when it happens is to intercept and regain control of our breath, consciously calming ourselves and not letting our anger out of control.
Fight or Flight
Shallow breathing tells the autonomic nervous system to activate our ‘fight-of-flight’ response. This is the nervous response that kicks in when we face potential threats or signs of danger, and allows our bodies to be better suited to fighting or fleeing the situation. As you can imagine, any physiological state that confer fighting or fleeing for our lives is not what we want when we are looking for calm, relaxed states of mind. Shallow breathing keeps carbon dioxide trapped in our lower lungs which provide circulation to more blood than the upper region of our lungs.
Engaging the diaphragm and extending the belly with each inhale can help ensure you are taking breaths that reach the full capacity of your lungs volume. These breaths should be kept slow and steady; I’ve heard less than 13 breaths a minute, but whatever makes you most comfortable and relaxed is a good rule of thumb.
One of my favourite breathing exercises is referred to as ‘4-7-8 Breathing.’ This involves inhaling for 4 seconds, hold this breath for 7 seconds, and then breathing out for 8 seconds(in through the nose, hold, out through the mouth in a ‘whoosh’ sound). What’s important here is the ratio, not so much the numbers; that is to say, you can do any variation of the numbers(3-5-6, 5-9-10) as long as you are breathing out for twice as long as breathing in, with a period of holding the breath in between. When I first started this, I couldn’t keep up with 4-7-8, so I found 3-5-6 worked perfectly.
Dr. Andrew Weil has contrasted this method with the tranquilizing drugs of our western society; where the drugs are powerful and effective at first with a diminishing effect, 4-7-8 breathing can actually be subtle at first, and increases in intensity with repetition.
Our breath creates the atmosphere for our emotional storms. One of my favourite methods for completely clearing things out, starting with the breath is deep, clearing breaths. This method is great if you find yourself overly stressed or anxious, and are having trouble finding your center. Begin with a forceful(but do not strain yourself) exhale, removing all the breath from your lungs. With the lungs expelled, hold all the air out for 3-5(even upto 10) seconds, then allow your lungs to swallow as much air as possible, then hold for the same 3-5 seconds. Repeat this in a rhythmic fashion, deep clearing breath out, hold, deep uplifting breath in.
Almost no emotional state is strong enough to keep hold of us through a series of clearing breaths. Change the breath, change the brain.
And of course, the basis of this blog, the One Breath technique. This is allowing our complete undivided awareness to rest on this one breath as it comes and goes. This one breath is the only thing we can experience in this moment; the next breath is only a future state that can distract us if we focus on anything but the here and now. If you find you still want to remain aware of your breathing after this one breath, if you find you end up sitting for an hour using this method, that’s great, but certainly not the point. The point is to take our awareness and put it on the here and now, however long that may be. Here we will find the freedom to be exactly as we are, and accept life as it comes. There is no greater joy or freedom than the acceptance of life right here, right now.
Head back here soon for more on Breathing!