One thing I share frequently with clients and students is how to breathe. You think it would be easy. Not at all. We often have to retrain ourselves to breathe deeply again; something we did naturally as a child.
Why do we need to relearn you might ask?
Well, the busyness and stressors in life cause us to breathe more into the upper chest, which is a shallow breath. The body and nervous system actually see this as a fight or flight response, thereby telling the body we are unsafe. We ideally want to utilize the full capacity of our lungs which are quite large; existing from the bottom of the rib cage right up to your collarbone area. When we breathe deeply the body feels safe and calms down.
How to breathe deeply:
Place one hand on your upper chest and one on your lower belly. Close your eyes and focus on your breath and the way in which you are breathing. Where is your body moving or rising? Are you breathing quickly or slowly? Shallow or deep? Do you find yourself holding your breath from time to time?
To change the way we breathe, we need to understand what we are doing first. Ideally we want to bring the breath deeply into the body using the full lung capacity we were born with. We do this with abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. We breathe in deeply and the lower abdomen rises. As we exhale it lowers. In most cases we breathe in and out through the nose.
When you breathe, try this:
As you breathe, imagine that you are breathing in joy and peace, and on an exhale you are letting go of tension and worry. We take in and we let go. It is more than just breathing – it is a way of experiencing life. Are we fully taking in the world around us…are we present? And, can we let go – or do we hang on and grip within our bodies, or clench our teeth and jaw.
Breathing helps us relax and calm down the nervous system. It helps us sleep more soundly, have clarity in our thinking, and washes away anxiety and stress. It oxygenates the body, which leads to greater ease in doing any kind of athletic activity. It helps to eliminate toxins from the body, which then increases our strength and vitality.
Now that you see some of the benefits, please try this practice. I find it easier to practice lying down in bed before sleep. It will help you drift off into a blissful state of restorative restful sleep.
“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh