I Breathe therefore I AM
(With apologies to René Descartes, who authored the phrase ‘Ergo cogito sum’ [I think therefore I am] and thus kicked in modern philosophy and rationalism.)
It’s pretty basic. If we can’t breathe we die. Simple as that. Normally we don’t have to stop and think about it. Our lungs keep on breathing away automatically. Unless – there is something wrong; we choose to control it; we practice particular breathing techniques or exercises.
The physical mechanism of breathing is fascinating. It requires a sophisticated co-ordination of various bodily functions such as the lungs, chemoreceptors monitoring changes to the pH levels in arterial blood, nerves, involuntary and voluntary muscles. Needless to say, there are many things that can adversely affect the lungs and lung function. I’m not going to delve into that here as I’m sure you are all well aware of these issues, their causes and treatments. Improper breathing, for whatever reason, can result in an increase in anxiety, stress, insomnia, exhaustion.
Breathing techniques are designed to improve the act of breathing by a fuller expansion of the lungs. There are oodles of different techniques out there to help those who experience difficulties. One of the most unusual I’ve come across in this research is called ‘frog breathing’ where air is swallowed rapidly by using the tongue and pharyngeal muscles. It is used by people with chronic muscle paralysis.
Why am I writing about breathing this month ? The answer is very simple, really. In the current world climate of unrest and fear, it seems to me that there is a need to take a collective deep breath and refocus – now more than ever. Breath work is integral to meditation, relaxation and calming. This in turn leads to a reduction in stress, anxiety and improved well-being. Controlled, or conscious breathing techniques support Mind, Body, Soul healing and transformation.
In his book Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe, Curt Stager explores the atomic and molecular basis of links through which breathing connects humans and other aerobic organisms of birds, mammals, and reptiles to the entire planet. How fascinating is that! As we breathe, so does the Earth.
Let’s keep it simple. By consciously focusing on the breath, the body actually becomes more fully oxygenated. The in-breath delivers life-giving nourishment to the cells. The out-breath removes waste products. If you watch a baby or an animal breathe you will notice that their belly moves up and down in rhythm with their breathing. This is because they are using the full capacity of their lungs. The breath is a major source of energy supply to the body. Adults tend to tense and only use a small portion of their lung capacity – hence become oxygen deprived. The average adult probably only uses about 1 litre of the 6- 7 litre lung capacity due to poor, shallow and irregular breathing habits. And as we’ve already noted, it can lead to stress, tiredness, illness, confusion.
What should I do ? Spend 5 – 10 minutes once or twice a day in breath work.
How ? Sit in a comfortable chair, spine straight, feet and arms relaxed and uncrossed. OR you may prefer to lie down – before you get up in the morning and last thing in the evening before you go to sleep.
What then ? Centre and relax. You might like to close your eyes to reduce external distraction. Focus on the rhythm of your own breathing. Remember that breathing is a three part cycle – in / hold / out. Count your cycle. Consciously deepen and lengthen it. Add 1 or more to the count if you can. Just this simple exercise alone is enough to bring your mind and focus to the Now Moment. And relax.
Here’s some other options to try –
♥ Add some positive affirmations or mantras to the breath cycle. “Breathing in relaxation” and “ Breathing out stress”. Or make up your own.
♥ Imagine your lungs are like balloons. Fill them to capacity. Hold. Empty them as fully as possible. Repeat several times. You may become light headed initially so take care particularly if you are standing up.
♥ A good cycle to use is the 1:4:2 pattern as taught by Tony Robbins. Breathe in to the count of 1 (2 or 3). Hold for a count of 4 (8 or 12). Breathe out to a count of 2 (4 or 6). This pattern massages the lymph system which then works more effectively to remove waste build-up and toxins.
Here’s a couple of guided breathing meditation options for you to try –
© Raili Tanska