Breath! Yes indeedy. We breathe all the time. Don’t let it get boring. Use it for the energy-source it is.
Of course we’re swimming in air, we take it for granted. We can’t see it, taste it, touch it, yet it constantly nurtures and energizes us.
We’ve all had moments when just breathing felt satisfying. But we tend to forget to breathe well. We get stressed, tense, bummed-out. “Just gotta get through this , then maybe I can breathe.” We clamp our lungs down for any number of reasons.
Notice how we instinctively hold our breath when a tense moment arises, or when something is said that we do not want to hear. When we relax and breathe deeply, we allow ourselves to hear and experience even difficult moments.
In a lifetime of stress, many of us have developed a chronic habit of breathing only into the top of our chest.
Less breath means less energy. Biologically speaking, our cells suffer from lack of oxygen and the entire body feels weaker.
Metaphysically speaking, breath is literally filled with prana, chi, light, energy.
You can notice the difference within a minute, as you take a few good breaths. Call it relaxation, ease, release: your body and mind will feel better immediately. As you develop a healthy-breathing habit, you will gain more physical energy and the ability to de-stress the moment you wish to do so.
(Not to mention I’ve had hospital patients whose pain lessened as they breathed deeper and slower. Anxiety and pain are tied together and they loosen up together. We’ve all experienced this.)
Belly Breathing is our first step toward more energy. Ever watch a sleeping baby breathe? Their chest doesn’t move. It’s all about their round belly rising and falling. This is the most natural nurturing way to breathe. We all knew how to do this when we were born. As the belly expands, the diaphragm pulls air all the way down deep, filling the entire lungs with sweet oxygen. If you’ve been in yoga class, you know all about belly breathing.
Place your hands on your belly now, and take a slow deep breath. Does your belly expand? This is good. The belly should expand big on the in-breath and collapse smaller on the out-breath. If this is not happening , it means your upper lungs get air, but the bottoms of your lungs are missing out.
You can teach yourself to belly breathe in a day or two. Spend some time with your hands on your belly and coordinate your breath. Stretch your belly outward, let it flop free expansively on the in-breath. Then contract it inward on the out-breath. Your body will be happy and much more relaxed when it re-learns belly breathing!
If you tend to always hold your belly in tight to look more attractive: is that really worth suffocating yourself? Be floppy and free!
Use belly breathing for all of the following methods.
Calm Breath Counts
Counting with the inhale/exhale is a method many traditions use all around the world. You mentally count, and there is no designated speed for counting. You don’t have to wait a full second for each number – just count at your own speed – but make it a steady count throughout. Some methods have you holding your breath in for a few beats.
Among the many ‘counting breath’ options you may find, here are two for calming down. Neither one involves holding the breath. Just count steadily in, then out. Smooth. Both of these will relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and stop the fight/flight response.
In-breath: 1-2-3 Out-breath: 4-5-6-7- 8
In-breath: 1-2 Out-breath: 3-4-5-6-7-8
Heating Energizing Breath Counts
These breath counts are rapid, cleansing, and heating-you-up. They can bring in extra energy when you are feeling fatigued. They can also ramp up your energy if you are offering hands-on-healing to yourself or others. Always breathe from the belly. Do these heating breaths very briefly, because they can make you dizzy. Return soon to gentle slow belly breathing.
1:4 – one big full breath in, four counts out (In: 1! Out: 2-3-4-5)
Fire Breathing – You’ve done this in yoga class: rapid in-out-in-out-in-out like a choo choo train, as your belly moves fast out and in. Limit this to only 5 to 7 breaths. Don’t hyperventilate. Rest a moment before repeating.
Always return to gentle belly breathing.
Melting Breath is my name for a yummy new-to-me breath method I learned from Brugh Joy’s 1979 book, Joy’s Way. Melting breath is soothing and energizing.
If you can feel, sense, or even imagine subtle energies, this melting breath may be quite delicious for you. In fact it’s been providing instant relief for my body while on-the-job in ICU.
W. Brugh Joy MD simply calls it “breath control” and presents it as a ten-breath preliminary for deep meditation. You may want to use it that way, or try it for refreshment. It goes like this:
Take a long deep belly-expanding breath as you sense/imagine beautiful light completely filling your lungs. Hold gently for a count of 7. Place your tongue at the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth, and exhale over your tongue, out your mouth, making a soft hissing sound. (Can also be done without any sound.) This makes a slow drawn-out exhale, during which you sense/imagine all that beautiful light flooding into every cell of your body, in every direction.
I call it melting breath because it makes my whole body melt, easing every tight muscle. It’s fine to shorten the holding phase, if you like. It’s fine to relax your tongue for a silent exhale.
Heart Breath is recommended by the Institute of HeartMath. Although you still use deep relaxed belly-breath, simply imagine that you are breathing into your heart. Imagine that you are bringing air in through the center of your chest, straight into your heart. As you continue breathing into your heart, begin to think upon a beautiful memory or someone you love. Feel gratitude and stay in the loving appreciating space, as you continue breathing into your heart. This is a de-stressing method that enhances your life toward more happiness.
The HeartMath site (www.heartmath.org) offers tons of scientific research showing how attitude impacts us biologically.
Whether you engage your breath to relax or energize or explore subtle prana life force, it is an adventure. In fact, the more you play with breath and meditation, the more you will sense real life force moving up and down your spine as you breathe.