Your Breath - Explore Your Mind Body Connection and Change Your Life
Squalling and naked you entered the world with your first breath. In Mom's womb, her breath along with her heartbeat sustained you and her rhythmic music welcomed you to life on earth. In between your first and last breath on this earth are a lifetime of experiences to explore. Your breath is the key to making the most of those experiences.
Short of Breath
Engage in strenuous physical activity and you will find yourself short of breath. My most recent memory of this was during the swim section of my first triathlon. Gasping for air, I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. My breath told me to back off and I switched from freestyle to breaststroke. Yes - I was the last one out of the water, but I was alive and well.
If you are short of breath, pay attention to your body. Your breath fuels your heart, your life sustainer - if you are short of breath, also known as dyspnea - stop and listen to your body. Dyspnea is a symptom in many medical conditions - some which are life threatening. FamilyDoctor.org offers a detailed flow chart for concerned persons.
Some people have poor breathing habits and weak breathing muscles. According to Harvard Medical School's (HMS) Family Health Newsletter shallow chest breathing can lead to anxiousness and high blood pressure. Deep abdominal breathing allows for a full oxygen exchange that reaches the lower part of the lungs and lowers blood pressure says HMS. Do you spend your time in traffic jams, social crises and other stressful situations? Do you ever slow down and pay attention to your breath?
Your Breath and Your Chakras
Your seven chakras are swirling vortexes of energy and gateways to your physical and emotional being. Yoga healing therapy or ayurveda centers on the seven chakras. The diaphragm, a large flat chest muscle below the lungs that enables breathing, is located between the third and fourth chakra. In her book, Your Body Speaks Your Mind, Deb Shapiro says a stiff diaphragm causes shallow breath and creates a blockage between the higher realms of thought, logic and soul searching and the lower realms of emotion, intuition and sexual passion. Shapiro says breathing difficulties reveal a fear of sharing your deepest feelings. Deep belly breathing opens any knots between the third and fourth chakra. Feelings of betrayal are released and the need to control others is relinquished.
Patterned Breath and Distraction
I discovered patterned breath when I was pregnant with my daughter. The Lamaze Method worked for me. Using a visual focus point and an inhale exhale pattern, my vaginal delivery was bearable and trauma free with little medication. I used patterned breathing once again to birth my son, this time with no medication. According to Wikipedia.com, there is no evidence the Lamaze Method works, and quite possibly it works only through distraction. Hmm . . . it sure worked for me with my adult ADD.
Long distance runners use patterned breathing to build endurance through distraction. As a girl and well into young womanhood, I hated running. Oh - I admired runners, with their chiseled bodies and low blood pressures but running was painful for me. Runners would tell me about the zone. The zone is a high produced by natural endorphins. The zone is attainable after a period of moderate to intense exercise. I never found the zone until I patterned my breath.
My pattern is to inhale for three beats and exhale two beats. With each beat I am on the opposite foot - inhale with right foot forward, then left forward, then right foot forward again - exhale left foot forward, then right foot forward. The next series of breaths I begin inhaling my left foot forward and end with an exhale on my left foot. Each inhale and exhale takes 5 footfalls and every fifth footfall is on the opposite foot. Focusing on my breath, I am distracted from my discomfort until I find the zone.
Breath Pattern for Running
Deep Yoga Breathing
In his book Yoga - The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, Erich Schiffman says the breath is the single most important aspect of yoga practice. Audible deep breathing is coordinated with movement to create a fluid meditation that is almost like a dance. Ujjayi breath or victory breath becomes instinctive and natural over time. After 14 years of yoga practice, my ujjiai breath is engrained and flows into my lifestyle. Oops just dropped Larry's birthday cake on the floor - stop, breathe deep - clean it up.
Victory breath is easy - in and out through the nose. Beginners should practice with their mouth open first. Breathe out making a haaaaah sound as though you were fogging up a mirror. Do this with your mouth closed and feel the air move across the back of your throat. You will produce a sound similar to a shell held up to your ear - the echo of waves crashing. Western meditators use this same technique and call it ocean breath.
Chapter 6 of Schiffman's book, entitled The Wind Through the Instrument explains how breathing replaces thinking for experienced yogis. Your breath guides you from within as you flow from pose to pose. I often visualize my breath opening up my tight spots. Is one side of your body tighter than the other? This is true for most people. Yoga balances the right and left side by breathing through postures. Breathing is called pranayama when used for yoga meditation. With pranayama and meditation you can balance the left and right sides of the brain.
Breathing for Meditation
"The mind is king of the body and the breath is king of the mind" says world renowned yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar believes pranayama, when done correctly connects the individual soul to the divine universe, says yogajournal.com. Both Shapiro and Schiffman also counsel breath awareness as a meditation technique. Meditate sitting or lying down, as long as your spine is straight, and observe your breath. Many thoughts will interrupt beginners, let the thoughts go and refocus on your breath.
Breathe and observe, is the mindset for beginning meditators. I began my yoga practice in 2000. At the end of my yoga session, I would lie in savasana or corpse pose and focus on my breath. For a few minutes I chased thoughts from my busy mind. In 2012, I began more serious mind exploration with CDs and MP3s. The deeply relaxing sound tracks contained theta waves. Theta waves are naturally produced by the brain during deep meditation. Kelly Howell's Brainsync.com offers a variety of excellent meditation guides. I would recommend Brainsync's Guided Meditation for beginners. Brainsync's Awakening Kundalini is an MP3 featuring breath of fire. Breath of fire, is rapid deep belly breathing and like kundalini yoga, not something you can just jump into. After 12 years of victory breath, I was prepared and it rocked my world.
Change Your Breath and Change Your Life
A few days into my daily meditation with breath of fire, I felt swirls of energy moving through my 2nd chakra. Within weeks strong swirling sensations were moving through all my 7 chakras. Kundalini breathing and meditation should be approached with caution. Kundalini syndrome is described as a possible spiritual emergency in Wikipedia.org. According to Wikipedia, Kundalini Syndrome is often associated with persons who have had near death experiences.
In summer of 2012 I learned alternate nostril breathing at Beth Shaw's YogaFit4 yoga teacher training. Like breath of fire, alternate nostril breath is a centuries old yoga technique taught by gurus. Its name pretty much describes it.
YogaFit has played a big role in my yoga journey. In 1997, Beth Shaw created a westernized yoga training course to enhance the American fitness industry. In 2000 during YogaFit1, I was first introduced to victory breath. Twelve years later, alternate nostril breathing and breath of fire brought my breath into my brain.
Every morning, I awake and breathe away my mind's chatter. For thirty minutes or more, I use victory breath, breath of fire and alternate nostril breathing to explore my 7 chakras. I become energized. The earth's energy nourishes me as it swirls through my first chakra, up my spine, into my brain and connects with the cosmos. Ahhh . . . we are divine - the universe, you and I.
What is your favorite breathing technique?
Deep Belly Breathing to Relieve Stress
Breath of Fire
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Yoga - The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffman, Simon & Schuster 1996
Your Body Speaks Your Mind by Deb Shapiro, Sounds True Inc. 2006
© 2014 YogaKat