Breathing for Beginners
image by Heidi & Matt
If you can read this, then the chances are you don’t consider yourself a beginner at breathing. After all, you’ve been doing it for years. But are you really breathing or are you operating on automatic pilot and missing out on a whole host of breath related benefits.
Breath awareness helps the body detox, repair, regenerate and blow stress away. Read on to discover the simple secrets of how your breath can calm your mind and heal your body…
Breathing is the only vital autonomic bodily function that can be consciously controlled and directed by the mind. This is so for a reason; your breathing is a bridge between your body and your mind. To allow your breathing to remain unconscious and automatic is to exist in a realm where that bridge is obstructed.
The breath is intended as a balancing device, a tuning tool that allows you conscious control of your emotions, and access to states of deep relaxation and harmony. Your breath holds the key to the door of compassion and understanding for all living beings. Why? Because it is in the moments of peace and stillness created by breath awareness that you can get in touch with the inner you. The peaceful, calm and competent you, and the you that can extend empathy, care and concern to others.
Being able to control your breath means being able to control your mind and being able to deeply nourish, oxygenate and detox the cells and tissues of your body.
When you are rushing about too busy and too stressed to eat properly, breath properly etc etc you are also too busy to connect properly with others. Over years of observation it has come to my attention that stressed people are not popular people. They are snappy, selfish and a strain to be around. They are missing out on the sweetness and subtleties of life. Stress robs us of the pleasures to be found in simple things in life and can cause us to drive others nuts with our ranting about little inconveniences that become mountains of self-obsessed stupidity.
Stress is a personality spoiler - breathing practice is a personality nourisher. It may well be one of the most powerful, yet overlooked tools in personal development.
Deeply Does it…
Deep breathing is also detoxing to the internal organs as the diaphragm assists the heart by massaging the organs as it draws down to breath deeply and then pumping blood strongly back up to the heart and lungs for more effective cleansing and re-oxygenation.
Detoxing, regeneration and repair of the body are further enhanced and triggered by the parasympathetic switch brought about by deep breathing. Slowing and deepening your breathing is a sign to your body to switch off the “fight or flight” responses that operate when you’re under duress.
The trouble with the hustle and bustle of modern life is that your body may perceive you to be always experiencing stress to some degree. If you are in the habit of breathing rapidly and shallowly, your nervous system may not get the message to “stand down” and you may be rapidly burning your energy reserves by living on constant standby.
That standby state keeps adrenaline coursing through your veins, puts your digestive system on hold, and causes excess heat and acidity in the body - which are two major causes of degeneration and disease.
Slow Your Breath and Lengthen Your Life
The Vedas teach that life duration is measured in breaths and that there is a direct relationship between how fast you breath and how long you live. To breath rapidly and high up in the chest squanders your vitality. It makes you gasp like a fish out of water. Slowing your breathing preserves your vital energy and calms your spirit.
A recent study in India concluded that the average volume of air inhaled can be increased by up to 50% after just 15 minutes of deep diaphragmatic breathing and that the average number of breaths per minute reduced from 15 to just 5 breaths a minute thus making breathing more efficient, energy producing, and stress reducing.
“When breathing is depressed or strained, all sorts of diseases will occur. Those who wish to nurture their lives must first learn the correct methods of controlling the breath and balancing energy. These breathing methods can cure all ailments great and small.”
from Precious Recipes by Sun ssu-mo of the Tang Dynasty
How to Educate Your Lungs
Both Qigong (which literally mean “energy work” or “breathing skill”) and Yoga teach a basic form of diaphragmatic breathing that can be learned and practised easily and without complex instruction.
Daily sessions of 10 to 15 minutes are long enough to make a significant difference to your life, the added benefit of regular practice being that you will educate yourself to be always more mindful of your breath, or at least to know how to stand down and recover quickly from stress and emotional upsets.
Here’s a quick guide to deep diaphragmatic breathing…
Stage 1: Inhalation
Inhale through your nose. Relax your diaphragm as you breath in and let it draw the air down deep into your abdominal cavity (i.e. Stomach area). Allow your ribcage to relax and expand as you breath in so that your lungs can get “topped up” right up to your collarbone area.
Then press the air down into your diaphragm so that your stomach wall is pushed out.
Stage 2: Retention
Hold that breath! Consciously hold the breath for about 5 seconds then relax and let it out.
Stage 3: Exhalation
Pull your stomach in and up and let the breath out in a slow steady stream through your mouth. Be sure to fully empty your lungs.
Stage 4: Empty Retention
Pause for a few seconds with your lungs empty before starting again with the next complete and deep inhalation.
In pranayama, Yoga’s ancient system of breathing for health and longevity, it is this held empty state that is considered the most beneficial to the body and the mind.