Breath of Life
Just breathe. How many times have we heard that short statement said aloud or rehearsed it in our heads before a particularly taxing, frightening, or exciting experience?
Just breathe. These two tiny words work almost like a charm to comfort and calm us because they call upon a very special kind of magic, magic that’s latent within our every breath. It’s the same kind of magic that electrifies the space between the last second of one year and the first of another, or that rushes through your veins as you enter into a new relationship or start a new job. It’s the invigorating magic of new beginnings.
Every precious inhale renews our lease on life and buys us another few moments of consciousness. It’s a new beginning both literally and figuratively – giving us another chance at life as well as refreshing our thoughts, emotions, interactions, and even our health.
Each breath is like a little rebirth, a renaissance that can only be celebrated if we recognize that it’s happening - but how often do we recognize the miracle of a breath? How regularly do we take a moment to tap into that magic?
As with many things that operate subtly, steadily, and sufficiently, we tend to take our breathing for granted and neglect to consider how well we’re receiving and releasing that invisible energy we call air. And while we might survive without paying much mind to how we’re breathing, we might not truly live; because the way that we breathe has a profound impact on how we experience and how we influence each irreplaceable moment of our lives.
Each breath is like a signal that goes out to our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and our souls. When our breathing is fast, shallow, and unconscious, that signal is like a tornado siren, telling each aspect of our being to stop its normal work and focus on taking cover. In response to this signal, our thoughts turn to worry, our emotions drop to lower vibrations, our hearts close up and go into protective mode, and even our bodies prepare to flee or to fight – our muscles tense, our heartrate increases, and our normal systems are suppressed and delayed in anticipation of danger.
Each time that we take an incomplete breath it’s like we’re repeating the same drill over again – we interrupt everything to go into hiding, sacrificing our freedom and limiting our power, even though there’s no real danger present.
When our breathing is slow, even, deep, and intentional, the message is quite different. In this case, our every breath sends a signal that, like the sound of bells or fireworks on a summer’s day, tells our bodies, our hearts, minds, and emotions that all is well and that they can carry on with their normal duties. Our heartrates decrease, our muscles relax, our hearts open wide to give and receive freely, our eyes open to beauty, and our emotions soar like a kite in the wind.
A single, deep and full breath fans the fire beneath the cauldron of our hearts, heating our creativity, our passion, purpose, and power until they begin to bubble up and pour out into the world around us.
This communication system is a powerful tool for consciously creating our experience rather than passively accepting it. By controlling our breathing, we can also manage the natural flow of our thoughts and feelings and the spontaneous actions that result. We can relieve anxiety, improve our health, ground ourselves, and reclaim the power of the present moment.
Despite the simplicity of this internal feedback loop and the ease with which we can take control of it, most of us go about our daily lives without paying any attention to how we’re breathing and thus never making use of it. For this reason, among many others, it seems that we can all benefit to some extent by incorporating breathing exercises into our daily or weekly routines. When used regularly, they remind us to recognize and appreciate those little rebirths that we like to call breaths, and they teach us how to tap into the enchanted energy they carry.
What are Breathing Exercises
A breathing exercise is something that we can do any time and in any environment to center, calm, and even completely recreate ourselves. It requires only that we let go of distractions and we focus exclusively on our breathing. By maintaining this focus, the light of our awareness will begin to penetrate the fog of indifference that often surrounds this life-sustaining activity, filling us with gratitude for the precious gift of life and reminding us of the power latent within our breath.
With consistent practice, breathing exercises can help us identify the different ways that we breathe and understand the messages encoded in each of them. With this knowledge, we can more easily recognize and correct when we are acting out of frustration, anxiety, or tiredness. By slowing down and evening out our breathing, we can completely change how we’re interpreting and influencing that moment.
Breathing exercises are also a simple but effective way of bringing ourselves back into the present moment, which is to stay stepping back into our power and appreciating the beauty of life that can only be seen in the here and now. Focusing on our breath pulls us away from the tangled web our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and expectations about what was or what may be and brings us back to the simplicity and the exquisite beauty of what is.
Through the combination of these mental, emotional, and physical changes, breathing exercises reward us with an immediate sense of calm and quiet even in the midst of what may otherwise seem like chaos. And as the roaring sound of busy thoughts begins to subside, the subtler sound of the spirit and body becomes clearer. The whispers of our souls begin to rise up from within us and the subtle yet important messages of our bodies are suddenly noticeable – this gives us the information we need to perform at our best, to be the kindest, smartest, strongest, wisest, and most beautiful versions of ourselves that we can be.
The benefits of breathing exercises aren’t all subtle – many of the benefits are measurable, physical responses to the change from shallow, unconscious breaths to the deeper and healthier breathing that comes with conscious intent. The diaphragm is connected to all of the major organs in the chest, abdomen, and heart, so when we begin to improve the way that we’re breathing we also bring these systems into alignment and balance. Deep, calm, and full breaths slow and even our heart rate, improve digestion, decrease pain, and relax our muscles. They also strengthen the muscles associated with the body’s respiratory system, keeping us healthy and full of energy.
How to do Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises can be done in any place and at any time, however, to begin it’s best to find a place that is quiet and comfortable. Start by sitting in a place where your spine can be completely straight and you have as little discomfort as possible. Sitting in a straight-backed chair or on the floor with your back against the wall is probably best. Once sitting, place your hands upon your knees and just let yourself relax a little while breathing naturally.
Once you feel completely relaxed, take a deep breath through your nose. Make it a full breath, pulling from your abdomen and filling your lungs completely. Feel the energy filling your body, making its way into every cell, refreshing and rejuvenating you. Focus on being grateful for this breath of life and the energy it brings you.
Now, let the air back out of your lungs through short, sharp exhales through your nose. As you do this, squeeze your abdomen and pull it inward towards the spine. Allow anxieties, fears, worries, and negative emotions to leave your body through each exhale and feel the refreshing of your spirit with each inhale. The key behavior during both the inhale and the exhale is to focus; keep your attention narrowed in on the breathing and consciously control the depth of your inhale and the release of your exhale.
Just breathe. Breathe in love, peace, compassion, hope, and joy. Breath out pain, fear, judgment, and anger.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can do this anywhere, and any time you feel you need to re-center yourself. In the middle of rush hour traffic, focus on your breathing and you will immediately begin to feel the tension fall away and sense yourself emerging from the illusion of planning, reflecting, assessing, and expecting into the simple, solid reality of the here and now. On your lunch break or after work, before meditation, while walking, sitting, or standing you can look within for a moment and allow your attention to center on the cycle of inhales and exhales so you can grab a hold of those little rebirths and start fresh in your thoughts and feelings.
When you find yourself lost in the darkness of negative thoughts or painful emotions, you can use this practice and visualize the light of life entering your body with each inhale and the shadows of sadness leaving on every exhale.
When you find yourself worrying over the future or attached to the past, you can use this technique to bring you back into the fullness and richness of the present moment as you focus on this precious movement of energy that’s happening in the here and now.
Just breathe. Perhaps these two little words really are a charm. Maybe all we need to start over and recreate ourselves in some new and exciting way is to repeat to ourselves those two tiny words and focus on what they really mean. Just breathe.
© 2015 Cristen Rodgers