Give yourself permission to take time to breathe, to live life, to give, to love, to reflect, to be present. And to just be. – Author Unknown
It’s only happened a few times in my whole life…but when it does, it’s more intense than anything I’ve ever experienced! Muscle spasm, legs cramp….”Charlie Horse”. So, out of nowhere it just hits you. Pain from zero to 10+ in less than one second. An emergency, a red light, sirens and stabbing pain. So I go from a sound sleep to instant ‘try to sit up’ mode and Lamaze breathing. Tiny, very fast breaths, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale… in though the mouth and out through the mouth, pursed lips, as fast as I can. Involuntarily I’m using my breath to calm my body and the pain. And then in the next few minutes, the muscle calms, the heart rate settles, my husband isn’t freaked out anymore thinking someone is breaking in the house, and I start to think….. Why did I breathe like that? Why did I automatically go to that breath?
The more I thought about it, the more interested I got in the ‘why’ of it all. The healing and calming power of something as simple as a single breath.
“Full, free breathing is one of the most powerful keys to enhancing physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.”
The breath of a baby and that of an adult is quite different. If you watch a baby sleep, the breath is full and complete. It’s natural and whole. The chest doesn’t just rise and fall, the whole body breathes. In time, somehow we lose that. The stresses of the world and unconscious muscle contraction all lead to adults’ shallow and short breath. It’s as if we’re robbing ourselves of something we were freely gifted. Your breath is a tool to be used whenever you choose and so many of us forget it’s even there.
It’s not a coincidence that most meditation techniques begin with focus on the breath. If you go to a yoga class or hit up a YouTube channel on meditation, you’ll almost always find breathing techniques. In yoga classes it’s called Pranayama. In most other meditation practices it’s called Breath Work.
Breath work can be powerful and therapeutic. It can benefit the mind, body and the spirit. You can reduce your heart rate and your blood pressure. There are studies proving that breath work can reduce anxiety, treat depression and post traumatic stress syndrome. Breath work can free you from a negative mental state and calm the nervous system. It can regenerate and restore us. An added bonus, breath work can be spiritual and your Apple Watch even includes a free app that nudges and reminds you to stop and breathe.
And it’s simple to begin. All you have to do is breathe with awareness and intent.
“Breathing is regenerative and restorative. It can cleanse us of toxins that have built up in the body and the mind.”
There are many breathing techniques you can explore but ‘Equal Breathing’ (Sama Vritti) is one of the easiest to learn and practice. Think ‘balance’…balance of the breath. If you can, breathe in through the nose and out through the nose. Breathing just with the nose offers a natural resistance and control to the breath. Breathe in and out equal counts. This is how you do it:
- Find a comfortable place, seated or reclined, eyes open or closed.
- Start with a quick overall softening (of the jaw, shoulders, arms) and then inhale to the count of 4, slow and steady.
- Match the exhale to the inhale and count to 4 again. Allow the breaths to be slow, steady and complete.
- Continue for a set time. No time is too short or too long. Allow yourself to do what feels right.
**Once you are are more advanced, you can lengthen your inhale/exhale to 6 or 8.
‘Bee Breath’, also known as brahmari (sanskrit meaning bee) is an easy breath work practice that calms the mind. Take a few natural breaths before you begin. With eyes open or closed, Inhale through the nose slowly and steadily and then exhale making an ‘mmm’ sound (like humming). Repeat the inhale and then exhale with the sound of the bee. Continue for 6, 8, 10 or 12 breaths.
‘Three Part Breath’ is another very easy breath to master. Many yoga classes use this breath at the beginning of the class as a way to transition students from the busyness of the day to a meaningful practice. Three Part Breath increases oxygen to the blood, calms the body and allows you to become more alert and better focused.
- Find a comfortable seated or reclined position.
- Breathe a few natural breaths feeling the body move with the breath.
- Inhale through the nose 3 times. The first breath is a belly breath, the second is a rib cage breath and the third is upper chest.
- Exhale slowly, smoothly and completely.
- Continue if you can for ten breaths.
Just a few more:
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) ~ Rebalancing, purifying
Breath of Fire (Kapalabhati) ~ Activates the sympathetic nervous system ~ jump starts your brain power.
Ocean Breath (Ujjayi) ~ Calming
Breath Retention (Kumbhaka) ~ Oxygen increased in heart, brain and muscles.
It’s free and flexible. You don’t have to have fancy equipment or a membership. It’s with you from the moment you’re born until you take your very last one….your breath. Use it, value it, receive it as if it were a gift. Allow your breath to carry you and balance you. Let it calm and heal.
I know I’m going to breathe a little easier these days.
***Breath work is completely safe for most people. If you have asthma or other health issues related to breathing or if you feel dizzy during breath work, just return to your normal breathing pattern.