How to Breathe
Updated: May 6
Breath is synonymous with life.
It is the first thing we do after we are born and the last thing that we do before we die.
When we are in crisis, we tell ourselves to “breathe.”
We know the importance of breathing and yet we often forget to make our breathing a conscious tool to improve our wellbeing.
Awareness of breath is a prerequisite to improving resilience.
We have both reported various incidents in our daily lives where we remember feeling that we “forgot to breathe.”
This is because we fall into the habit of taking tiny gulping breaths that give us the minimum amount of gaseous exchange for us to function. We do not need only to function. We are far more efficient if we give this process our attention.
It is widely known that rapid breathing or hyperventilation causes “blowing off” off the normal amounts of carbon dioxide in the lungs, reducing levels in the blood. It is the building up of that carbon dioxide that drives us to breathe. Removing the drive to breathe causes panic attacks which create further rapid breathing.
When you exercise to the point of exhaustion you may find yourself leaning on a surface with your arms to help you to get your breath back. This is because the muscles in the top of the shoulders and neck act as accessory muscles for breathing when fixed in this way. It encourages large volumes of airflow into the tops of the lungs, helping you to recover.
It is a common human habit to utilise the upper lobes of the lungs rather than to breathe deeply using the diaphragm. This type of shallow breathing is not efficient. When you consider the above fact, remember also that many of us are currently propped up on our elbows, squinting into a laptop screen, fixing our accessory muscles. Are you doing that right now whilst reading this?
Sit up straight, drop your shoulders, allowing your shoulder blades to fall down and come together. Unclench your jaw and relax your face.
There are so many benefits to mind, body and spirit when we learn to breathe more consciously.
All of the meditation techniques we teach begin with an awareness of breathing.
They follow this up with a deepening and lengthening of the breath, especially the outbreath which promotes physical relaxation in the body.
Pranic breathing techniques do not only benefit us physically.
There are meditation techniques which concentrate solely on breathing to calm the mind and reframe the thoughts.
We will detail one of them in this week’s practical exercise below.
Use this technique on a daily basis as part of your wellbeing ritual.
In addition, when you find yourself in a difficult situation pause and use this tool to shift the negative energy. Then you can process what has happened in a positive frame of mind. In doing this the outcome of the situation will be very different.
Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet space with your spine straight. Drop your shoulders and release any tension that you feel in your body.
Take your awareness to your breathing.
The tidal in and out of your breath.
Feel your “aliveness.”
Now begin to allow your breath to slow and deepen.
Concentrate on allowing the outbreath to become just a little bit longer than the in-breath.
It is widely understood that during the in-breath, the tension in our muscles increases slightly; and during the outbreath our muscle tone decreases and allows us to “let go.”
When thoughts outside the breathing arrive, just let them come and go without taking up space, and gently bring your awareness back to your breathing.
Now that you are calmly focussed on your breathing:
Begin to see in the in-breath as a stream of white light entering through the nose or mouth and travelling all the way to the bottom of the lungs.
And on the outbreath, imagine dark acrid, smoke.
As you gently breathe in white light, feelings of positivity enter your body and mind. Feel them travel to your extremities.
As you breathe out the dark smoke you will feel negative thoughts and emotions leave you.
As you continue to do this you will feel the dark smoke begin to become paler and thinner, suffused by the white light of positivity that is circulating.
Eventually the smoke becomes difficult to see and every part of your body is filled with light and positivity.
Open your eyes and gently bring yourself back to your current situation with a renewed sense of positivity.
This and other techniques like it can be practised at any time anywhere and can improve mood and mind-set.
Learning to habitually take care of your wellbeing will lead to permanent change.