June 25, 2024

The power of breath

Breathing is often taken for granted in our culture. The breath is a gift that is so often forgotten, because it is so fundamental to our being. The bodies use of the breath to revitalize itself and then expel toxins is critical to life as we know it.

In this day of smog filled air and high pollen counts it’s even more amazing that we simply keep breathing. Our bodies operate automatically on a subconscious level and it will not allow us to forget to breath.

This autopilot mode is an important piece to understanding the breath. When we become stressed and overwhelmed our breathing becomes rapid and shallow, our pulse rate increases, and our whole physiology changes to accommodate the signals coming from the brain. The mind is telling the body that we are in crisis and we must be vigilant and ready to respond to the attack that may come at any moment. But the attack never comes… Instead we sit in that state of high alertness and our body suffers from the minimized breathing activities as we continue to be ‘ready’.

The good news is that our nervous system is a two way street. Just as the mind can tell the body how to respond, the body can inform the mind. So shifting into a state of mindfulness and adjusting your rate of breathing and the fullness of your breath can in fact shift your mental state. Slowing your breath and deepening your inhale and exhale will cause your heart rate to stabilize and slow down and can reduce feelings of anxiety and agitation. As with all states of mind, the first and most crucial step is becoming aware.

So this leads to the first meditation process, simple breath awareness. This can be a very short process with the goal of observation or it can be part of a longer meditation. Find a comfortable position in which you can meditate for a short period, as stated you can do this for a minute or, as you become more advanced, much longer:

  • Shift your awareness to your breathing.
  • It can help to focus on a single point in your inhale and exhale.
    • Either visualize the air as it passes in and out through your nostrils.
    • Or monitor the expansion and contraction of the lungs.
  • And simply observe
    • Notice the air as it passes through your nostrils, into your body
    • Notice the air as it leaves through your nostrils, out of your body

That’s the whole technique. Simple Breath awareness. You are performing two activities here:

  1. You are increasing awareness of your breath and thus awareness of your mental state
  2. You are giving your mind something to focus on other that it’s endless chatter Chitta Vritti (Sanskrit for fluctuations of the mind, or mind chatter)

This simple process of becoming the observer and shifting the focal point of your mind can create a change in your breath and mental state that is beneficial to you.

This technique can then be augmented with breath control. In breath control exercises you are actually informing your physiology and your mind that we are no longer in crisis. By controlling the breath and gently bringing yourself into a calm state through breathing the body is informing the mind that everything is okay.

This can be accomplished through alternate nostril breathing, as highlighted in part 1 of the meditation guide.

Another technique is simple deep breathing.

  • Shift your awareness to your breathing.
  • It can help to focus on a single point in your inhale and exhale.
  • Begin by fully exhaling and pressing the air out of your lungs.
  • Now begin slowly breathing in through your nostrils to the count of 5
  • Fully inhale and then pause for a count of 2
  • Next begin to slowly exhale through your nostrils to the count of 5
  • Now pause at the bottom of the exhale for a count of 2
  • Repeat for 3 or 4 full rounds
  • Then release and allow your body to resume breathing normally
  • Become the observer and watch your breath as it passed in and out of your nostrils

As you can imagine this technique can be easily customized to suit your personal meditation needs.

I look forward to receiving feedback on your personal experience with these techniques.





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