“The breath is the pathway connecting the body and mind to the spirit – and beyond” S. Tobin
The Breath – breathing. Sounds pretty basic right? Have you ever given any thought to your breathing? The process of breathing is a bodily function that we generally don’t devote much attention to. The benefits of proper breathing are numerous, and include: better oxygenation, healthy blood pressure levels, stress reduction and relaxation, better sleep, and improved focus. These are some of the physical aspects. As always mind-body and spirit are connected, what helps one part, helps the whole human being.
Breathing is essential to maintain physical life. The breath carries oxygen into every cell of the body. If you think about it, there are numerous references to breathing in our culture, in literature, art, and in everyday life. How many times have you been told to “take a deep breath” or “just breathe”? When delivering our babies, we women are advised to “breathe through the pain”. For the most part, human beings are born with the ability to effortlessly breathe correctly. As we grow, through conditioning and habit, we become accustomed to breathing less deeply and sufficiently. Healthy breathing patterns can and should be re-established.
The basis of healthy breathing is “diaphragmatic breathing”. Diaphragmatic breathing utilizes the full potential of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a thin muscle below the lungs which separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm, when functioning effectively, creates a vacuum which allows the lungs to fill from the bottom. The lungs are better able to oxygenate the blood when lung-filling breaths are taken using the diaphragm. Every cell in the body depends on this oxygenation to function adequately. Diaphragmatic breathing can provide stress-reduction and relaxation benefits as well. It is how we are intended to breathe.
When the body perceives an actual or perceived threat, the brain activates a primal, sympathetic nervous system, “fight or flight” response. Stress hormones then flood the body. The following breathing techniques can trigger the “relaxation response” initiating the release of calming, feel-good hormones. The cumulative effect of stress on the body is detrimental to psychological and physical health. It is not realistically possible to eliminate all of the stressors of everyday life, making it imperative to develop strategies to help manage them. Healthy breathing is one of the tools available to all of us, which has proven effective in mitigating the effects of stress on the body and mind.
To insure that you are breathing from the diaphragm and to get into the habit of doing so, I would suggest making time every day to incorporate this simple breathing exercise.
- Begin by sitting or lying down comfortably.
- Rest the palm of one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
- Inhale deeply through your nose. Your shoulders should not rise and your chest should not move up against your hand. Your belly should rise with the intake of breath. Imagine pulling the breath down to your lower abdomen.
- To exhale, sigh lightly and breathe out. Your exhalation should be about twice as long as your inhalation.
- The cycles of inhale/exhale should be smooth and effortless. It may take some practice to get this feeling right.
THE BREATH IN MEDITATION
In my blog post titled Meditation – The Journey Within, I touched upon the concept of “coming back to the breath“. This concept is integral to a form of meditation known as Mindfulness Meditation. This “being in the moment” type of meditation centers on breathing. As you breathe in slowly through the nose, become very conscious of your breath. Focus on the breath as you draw it into your body, then lightly sigh the exhale. The goal is to establish a seamless, rhythmic cycle of breath in and out. If your mind starts to wander, as mine often does, bring the focus back to your breathing. If you have difficulty with the focus, it is sometimes helpful to count the exhalations. Each time you exhale, count the breath, if your thoughts wander, come back to counting. For some people, it is easier to focus on counting than on breathing alone. With practice, this comes to feel natural and enhances relaxation, stress reduction and concentration. The breath is integral in the practice of Yoga, which is considered by many to be a “moving meditation“. The formal control of the breath in yoga, pranayama, is central to the practice, and considered by some yogi to be the source of “prana” or life force energy.
FOUR – THREE – SEVEN BREATHING
Another breathing technique, which I practice frequently, is also a counted breath type of breathing, known as Four-Three-Seven Breathing Technique. You can alter the count of the breaths to your personal preference, the key is that the exhale be fairly equal to the total of the inhale and hold portions. I use this method when I feel stressed or nervous. It is also my go to method when I cannot get to sleep. It is very effective. The following is an outline of how to perform this type of breathing.
- Sit or lie down comfortably
- Inhale through the nostrils, using the diaphragm, for the count of 1, 2, 3, 4.
- Hold the breath for the count of 1, 2, 3.
- Exhale with a light sigh for the count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
- Repeat this sequence for three to five cycles.
Although optimal breathing has physical benefits, there are also spiritual benefits. Meditation practitioners through the ages have understood that the breath is key to enlightenment. I believe that proper breathing sets the stage for maximum physical support for spiritual purpose. When I am channeling or practicing mediumship, my breath plays a very important role in maintaining and supporting the flow of energy. I rely on my breath for support when I am holding space for a meditation group. Body-Mind-Spirit all benefit from breathing efficiently. I have no doubt that the breath enhances the connection between the physical and the energetic. I absolutely see the breath as a bridge between the physical and the spiritual. In an energy healing session, my breath along with the breathing of the client, aids in facilitating the clearing, transmutation and balancing of energy.
I am not a medical professional and I do not offer this information as medical advice. As always you should consult your physician with any medical concerns. It is my opinion, and has proven out in my life, that by learning to breathe more effectively we create positive impact on the health and well-being of the body, mind and spirit.
Try the above intentional breathing methods the next time you are feeling really stressed out, or can’t get to sleep. Experiment with your breathing in your meditation or yoga practice. As always, feel free to explore further. Do what is right for you. Let me know how it goes.
Remember, we ARE all connected, together we SHINE more brightly!