Following a recent article I wrote for a local paper (The Linton News), I wanted to continue the theme of breath and breathing in this week's blog.
It's become a bit of a cliche to be told to just breathe. It can grate and sometimes can be the last thing you want to hear when are stressed out or anxious or in a high state of alert.
But let's delve a little deeper and ponder why breathing works and how to take steps to physically breathe properly.
From the moment we exit out of the birth canal the breath belongs to us. It is ours to use and our responsibility to use fully. At the exact moment of birth, the body becomes fully amplified into breath. It is the beginning of our survival. This first instinctive movement that none of us remember is the basic template that stays with us; from that moment on, whether we are sitting still, running or sleeping the breath acts as the continuous resonant presence influencing all other processes in our bodies physically and emotionally.
But ironically what happens as we grow older is that we forget how to breathe; we allow anxiety and stress and other external factors such as being pulled into technology multiple times each minute to influence this innate capacity. As we take more and more shallow breaths we become used to only using a small percentage of our breathing apparatus contained within our bodies to breathe which in turn creates health problems. It creates tension around the neck and shoulders. It increases heart rate which in turn increases blood pressure.
Without realising, we have (incorrectly) taught ourselves that to restrict the breath will garner greater control in situations. But if we understand that the breath is the central motif from which all other patterns in the body are built we will understand that to inhibit this fundamental prana (force) is to then also disable and affect all the other patterns of movement and consciousness.
When we breathe in a shallow way, it is a subconscious response that states we do not want to be moved. In the clinging to apparent certainty or our habitual embrace of 'non change' it is a sign that our desire for stasis has become paramount rather than seeing that our free flowing acceptance of situations and life as it meanders and moves is what will liberate us and our creativity. To understand and accept that change is the inherent nature of material existence is what will allow us to breathe properly.
The next time you take a sigh - wonder why you are sighing. Perhaps it is a response to feeling fed up, tired, sad or angry but take note that the common denominator is it takes place after a period of shallow breathing. Check in and ask yourself what was happening before the sigh came out? That 'sigh aftermath' is a fissure in the glass of the restorative and transformational power of real and conscious breath. Soak up how good it feels after an audible sigh. That feeling right there is deep breathing and by unconsciously creating that sigh is proof that you have the power to make that a more regular practice for yourself and your body if you bring more awareness to it.
If you find yourself in a yoga asana and feel limitation whilst there try not to focus your attention on the limitation. That approach is actively directing your attention to that which caused the limitation in the first instance. Try and deepen the breath into the asana and visualise the all enveloping breath (that only you are in control of) reaching into any and every inch of tissue and fascia that is asking for it. Soften into the space and allow the breath to do its work. It must also be observed here that if we try and force the breath too much it will not open. In your haste to untie the breathing you may tug in places that are not necessary - try and be patient in the motion and allow the breath to magically open; instead of demanding results, inquire, feel and sense. A favourite yogic saying of mine from Ashtanga yoga founder, Pattabhi Jois is this “Body is not stiff, Mind is stiff.”
A simple breathing exercise that ANYONE can do....
Take a moment to sit down either in a chair or sit on the floor cross legged or with legs stretched out. Wherever you are, connect down in your seat but keep your back long and rising upwards from the root to the crown of the head along the length of the spine.
Clear your nose by blowing it
Close the eyes or soften the gaze down towards the floor.
Release any tension between the eyebrows and the jaw.
Begin to take a big inhale; breathing in through both nostrils evenly if possible.
Observe the air as it comes into the nostrils – does it feel cool or warm?
Count the breath in for 1,2,3.
Pause for one count as you get ready to exhale
Exhale the breath out for 3, 2, 1 (either exhale through the nostrils so keep the lips sealed or open the lips and allow the air to stream out evenly).
Repeat several times.
If you feel you can breathe deeper simply increase the count to 4 or 5 (in and out). You are now breathing deeply.
After a few minutes observe whether you feel calmer and refreshed by simply zoning inwards and observing (albeit briefly) the majesty that resides in you, in all of us.