DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE!
If you know me, you know that I’m often reminding people to breathe.
“How do you forget to breathe?” you ask? Well, you’d be surprised.
Granted, breathing is something our body does automatically without our awareness. It is part of the natural rhythm of life, expanding and contracting, ebbing and flowing. As long as we’re alive, the breath is something we always have but may not always be aware of. Yet, it is also something we can control and regulate if we put our mind to it. Because of this, the breath becomes a natural object of meditation and serves as a medium through which we can connect our mind and body.
Many people tend to either hold their breath or use accessory muscles (neck, shoulder, and upper chest muscles) to take shallow breaths. Though this is a common reaction when we feel stressed or rushed, over time, it can create tightness and tension, often leading to headache, lightheadedness, and other symptoms of poor oxygenation. By paying attention and regulating your breath, you can change your level of consciousness, begin to relax, and improve your health.
Take a moment now to notice how you’re breathing. Are you holding your breath? Are your breaths shallow? Do your shoulders and neck muscles tense up as you breathe? The very act of awareness might add more tension but just notice without judgment, not trying to change anything.
Now, adjust your posture so that you’re sitting with your back straight and your feet are planted firmly on the ground. Place your hands on your belly and close your eyes. On your next breath in, expand your lungs by lowering your diaphragm (the main breathing muscle attached to your lower ribs) and pushing your belly out. Notice if your shoulders elevate on the inhale. If so, consciously pull them down and focus on expanding from below and pushing your hands outward. On your exhale, contract your belly in and try to squeeze out all the air in your lungs in a slow, controlled fashion. By doing so, you’ll notice a fuller breath with better air exchange, improving and increasing the efficiency of oxygen delivery to all of your organ systems. Continue this for at least 8 breaths. Then open your eyes and breathe normally. Notice how you feel.
As you practice breathing fuller and deeper, enjoy the experience with curiosity. Ride the rise and fall, and explore the pause between the inbreath and outbreath. See if you can expand into that dimensionless space to deepen your level of consciousness. Many Buddhist and yogic traditions use this technique to reach enlightenment.
So when you find yourself caught up in the “busy-ness” of life, when you feel overwhelmed with too much to do, or when you feel pulled in multiple directions at once, just notice the tension in your body and don’t forget to breathe. Time will miraculously start to slow down, and you’ll feel calmer, lighter, and better equipped to manage the issues at hand. Not to mention, your mind, body, and spirit will thank you for it!
For more examples of breathing exercises, click here.