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Breathe yourself to health and happiness

Breath is life. We could survive for days without food or water. But without oxygen we would die within minutes. It is amazing how little attention we pay to the importance of proper breathing in daily life.

The first sign of life outside the uterus is the first breath we take; it is the most important and forceful inhalation a human will ever make. It is our first life-affirming action, which enlivens our body making it suitable to sustain life in our new world.

For many of us, our lives are exceedingly busy filled with constant daily stress. We’re unaware that our breath is often fast and shallow and that we’re only using a fraction of our lungs. This can result in a lack of oxygen which can lead to different complications such as heart disease, sleep disorder and fatigue. Everything you do, the pace you keep, the feelings you have, and the choices you make are influenced by the rhythmic tempo of your breath.

By practicing deep and systematic breathing, we re-energise our body.

The two-way connection between how you breathe and how you feel was elegantly demonstrated in a study that observed how the breath naturally changes during joy, anger, sadness, and fear (Philippot, Chapelle, and Blairy 2002). The researchers induced these four emotions in participants and measured the changes in breathing. They found that there were characteristic changes for each emotion. In a second study, the researchers turned the observations for each emotion into breathing instructions. They had participants change their breathing according to those instructions, with no hint that the breathing patterns were connected to specific emotions. The study found that the breathing patterns reliably created the emotions they were associated with, without any other emotion cue or trigger. – Kelly McGonigal, PhD, Yoga for Pain Relief © 2009 p 25

How to breathe – one full breath

  • Sit or lie down comfortably. Relax the tongue and jaw, neck and shoulders. Keep your mouth closed and soften the eyes

  • Begin slowly by inhaling through your larynx via the nose. Use your larynx to draw the breath in filling your lower abdomen and stomach without stopping the movement

  • Continue to inhale smoothly until your rib cage expands sideways, your chest lifts and your collarbone rises

  • Pause at the top of the breath

  • Begin to exhale from deep down in your abdomen, drawing the breath up from below the body

  • Allow the breath, the energy, to flow out of your lower body into the diaphragm

  • The abdomen sinks as the breath moves up through the rib cage expelling energy as it contracts the ribs, and moves into your larynx and out of your nostrils

  • Notice the energy of your breath leave your body

  • Your chest, ribs and collarbone are now fully relaxed

  • Pause at the bottom of the breath

To understand each element of the breath cycle, you can place your hands on your abdomen, ribs, chest and your collarbone to feel the lift and expansion with each inhalation and the drop and contraction with each exhalation.

Try practicing this throughout the day be it at the bus stop, washing dishes, sitting at your desk or in bed. Notice how it brings you into the moment. Try using this breath in moments of anger, stress, anguish, sadness or anxiety and allow the feeling of calm and composure envelope you.

Perhaps the most profound shift we can make in ourselves and the world, when noticing that we feel agitated, anxious, depressed or angry, is to bring awareness to the breath. Only then can we recognize our unconscious stress breathing patterns and start to bring ease to the breath, taking a gentle breath in and a relaxing breath out without hesitation or strain.

When we engage in such practices, we’re working with the monumental fact that breath is the link between body and mind. Thoughts and emotions affect the breath. And the breath affects thoughts and emotions.

“When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind still.” ~ Hatha Yoga Pradipika

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