Your Breath of Life

spirit, inspire, in spirit…Each slow, smooth, full breath you take is a body-mediTation. As you breathe, awaken to the fresh, soothing air of the inhale and the satisfying release of the exhale. Your body opens and your mind expands. You feel loved and loving. You are the woman you want to be…Q is YOU.

Believe it or not, you are a terrible breather…we all are. And this in itself makes you feel stressed because you are literally suffocating yourself. Being a shallow breather is quite possibly the primary culprit of doubting yourself and feeling anxious about life. And as research is revealing, being a “terrible breather” is a root cause of many illnesses and disorders. Yet learning to be deepen your breath and align your body will ease the mind and resolve much of what ails you.

Most of the time we go through our day rarely, if ever, taking a deep, full, slow, smooth breath. Not even one. We take shallow breaths, breathing only in about the upper third of our lung capacity. Yet the best oxygen exchange happens deeper in our lungs. Which means that when we “shallow-breathe” we are not giving our body enough oxygen to feel satisfied and to activate the hormones, neurotransmitters and enzymes that keep us healthy, calm, smart and happy–our body is not getting what it needs. Without enough oxygen we are unable to convert CO2 and expel toxins from our body. We can develop health problems ranging from panic attacks to paranoia, from high blood pressure to digestive disorders. Feeling like we can’t get enough air our body is telling our mind something is wrong…and it is even life-threatening. We actually feel like we are suffocating. This triggers our fear of survival. Pile on top of this our life events and situations that feel threatening and we are now in a powerful negative body/mind cycle. Think about how hugely this affects the quality of our lives–this deep-seated anxiety affects how we think and feel and thus how we behave and so on. The antidote obviously is to learn to become a better breather.

the most luxurious feeling in the world is a deep, slow, smooth, full breath…

Not enough can be said about the importance of learning to breathe better. Dr. Andrew Weil tells us “Improper breathing is a common cause of ill health. If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly. There’s no single more powerful–or more simple–daily practice to further your health and well-being than breathwork.”  Allison Davis, for The Cut–NY Magazine, took a Breathing Class from Dr. Belisa Vranich (her book-Breathe) and said that the effects were immediate–she felt more calm and yet rejuvenated and energized too, her aches and pains were less and she slept better that night.

Our deep full breathing is what activates our inner calm…it activates our parasympathetic nervous system helping us relax–lowering heart rate, blood pressure and adrenalin output. And this affect is immediate…as soon as you begin to take a deep breathe. Metaphysically, a slow, smooth, full breath helps to open the channels of our energy-centers (chakras) and activate your self-confidence and personal power.

Combine good breathing with good posture and you have the formula for raising your vibe and staying healthy mentally and physically…and being happier.

Breathing Techniques

The key to becoming a better breather in life is to just do it…to find a way to remind yourself to breathe consciously. Sometimes we instinctively respond to a stressful situation by taking a deep breath yet that is not enough. You want to become a conscious breather, meaning to cultivate a habit of using your breath to keep you calm and centered. Good Posture is important to good breathing–these go hand in hand. Now because we have been such shallow breathers it is important to realize that our body is not conditioned to take full breaths. Meaning the muscles and fascia in our rib cage, chest, back and spine are fairly tight limiting our lung capacity. Our lungs themselves are rather constricted in what they are used to. So it will take some physical conditioning to improve our ability to breath well–just like it takes physical exercises to help us run well.

Good Posture is essential to good breathing. good breathing is essential to good posture.

The breath technique is simple…get in good posture and take as full, as smooth and as deep a breath as you can–now take many more. You want to condition your body to be able to take bigger, deeper breaths.The best exercise to do to improve your breathing is to practice taking deep full breathes…always. You can do it as a short body-meditation in the middle of your day. Sit tall and take 10 deep, smooth breaths focusing on expanding your ribs and belly as much as possible, and then noticing how these breaths make you feel. They will feel good and this is important to notice–this encourages you to want to do this more.

To help you get the sensation of a full breath–while sitting tall, place one hand on your chest and another on your belly. Breathe deeply and fill your torso with your breath making both hands rise and hold it. Then take a few more sips of breath even if you think you have no more room–this helps to stretch the muscles and fascia in your ribs and spine. Another way to help your ribs expand as much as they can is to lie on the floor and breathe in enough to feel your ribs expand into the floor. Each time you take a breath make it as slow, smooth and deep as you can and feel your torso expand like a barrel–your ribs go out in front, on the sides, and in back into the floor.

You can play with the breath to affect different conditioning–taking full, deep breathes and holding them will help stretch your muscles; and forcing your breath out by compressing your ribs, abs and chest muscles strongly will strengthen your muscles–for example breath in slowly but breath out through your nose and fast as you can.

It needs to be mentioned that myofascial release and gentle-traction exercises are very important to help expand our breathing capacity. Not only are our chest and upper back muscles tight but more particularly the fascia and ligaments on the anterior of our spine are very short and tight. This causes our spine to round forward and we slouch which dramatically limits our ability to take full, deep breaths.

Simply lying on the floor is a good way to start lengthening the fascia and ligament. Keep your knees bent so your lower back does not arch and your spine has a good opportunity to lengthen and relax. To advance this stretch and traction, you could put a short towel-roll (about 6 inches ling and 2-3 inches thick) along your spine right behind your sternum. Tuck your chin to keep your neck long and just relax. Feel this roll press into your mid-upper back vertebrae and gently press them forward. Let your arms and shoulders just drape of the mat and feel your chest and shoulders open. Lie there for a few minutes for a bit of “traction.” At first everything will feel tight, and then your chest and shoulders and spine will begin to release. It should feel really good. You might try raising your arms over head, keeping them parallel and as you lower then to the floor let them stress your shoulders and slightly arch your upper back. Once your  fingers touch the floor then circle them down to your sides and repeat the circle again–raise them up over your body toward the sky, then overhead toward the floor and then gliding them along the floor down to your side.

And finally, regularly rolling out your spine and upper back with a foam-roller is very important to align the spine, lengthen intervertebral ligaments on the spine and open your chest and release tension. And of course with all these different exercises the most important thing is to keep your breathing deep and full and paying attention to how your ribs and torso expand and release and how this makes you feel–being “body-centric” in your attention.

just this breath, just this moment, just this body…your true self

Breathing Patterns to Play With

There are different types of breathing patterns you can do that will have different results on both your body and psyche. Slow, smooth, deep breathes release stress and activate our parasympathetic nervous system slowing our heart rate. blood pressure and adrenalin output. And as we know this shifts the chemistry in your brains as well and helps us feel mentally and emotionally calmer. Holding our full breath for a moment creates a deep sense of satisfaction–we are full of oxygen. Holding our breath after an exhale can create quite a sense of emptiness and a moment of presence. Breathing in and out through our nose helps to activate our third eye and make us more conscious of our intuition. This can feel stimulating to our brain–helping us feel clear-minded. Inhaling and exhaling in pulsations can fire us up–be careful not to overdo. Knowing that different ways of breathing can initiate different sensations we can choose a way to breath depending upon what we feel we need in the moment. Stressed out–long, slow, smooth breaths. Wanting to feel fired up out of a funk–deep, fast, forceful breaths.

For the purpose of this program we will focus on a simple practices that will give us an easy place to start to become better breathers. And you are encouraged just to have fun playing with your breathing everywhere–fire breathing when you are cleaning the house; full, deep breathing on your commute to work, patterns of holding your breath while at your desk; quick inhales and slow exhales while watching TV. There really is no right or wrong way to practice healthy breathing–and pretty much all of it will make you feel much, much better than you did. Just remember to keep those lungs full.

The body-Breath Body-Meditation:

Slide4Let’s calm our body. This technique uses parts of Iyengar breathing techniques. Close your eyes and sit tall–draw your shoulders and arms back and down by squeezing your shoulder blades toward your spine and down your back so your sternum lifts. Feel your Kegels and ABS contract to help you from over-arching your lower  back and to support a long spine. Tuck your chin in slightly so your neck is long and the crown of your head reaches skyward (don’t let the crown fall off). Rest your arms and hands on your thighs and feel your spine long and your chest open. Take 3 cleansing breathes—a deep inhale through your nose and strong exhale out through your mouth: release. Then start to draw your breath in more slowly through your nose…slow, smooth, deep till you feel full. Exhale slowly through your nose and until you feel empty. As you exhale feel tension, anxiety, toxins release from your body into the Earth. As you inhale feel fresh, rejuvenating energy come up your body from Earth and down into your body from the Cosmos.

Now a bit of Iyengar. Exhale till you feel completely empty. Then draw the breath in slowly imagining it is starting at your pubic bone. Pause the breath in your belly. Then continue and pause the breath at your low ribs, again breath and pause at your mid ribs, and complete the breath feeling your collar bones expanded fully…pause and slowly exhale. You might try three breaths like this and then return to your relaxed, full breathing. This technique helps you to become very conscious of your body as it breaths–of your ribs and lungs and torso. It deepens your body-mind awareness. Also to deepen your body-mind-soul consciousness, as you breath continue to be aware of how your body feels and how you feel. Feel the replenishing sensations in your body– the rise of the chest, the release of stress, the yummy sensation of fullness and satisfaction and the calm, soothing feeling of release and emptiness. And pay attention to how these physical sensations make you feel emotionally. Do you feel calm and renewed?

Now breath techniques can be just as powerful at energizing you. Sitting in good posture, simply taking fast breaths in and out of your nose is very thrilling and invigorating. Excites your body and clears your mind. Be careful not to do too many and feel dizzy. Notice how this raises your body’s energy and your vibe.

It is a good idea at the end of your body-breath body-meditation to take a few final normal full breaths smooth, easy breaths to help integrate all the experiences of your meditation. This helps you make the transition from your meditative state into your more conscious mental state–helping you feel calm yet energized for connecting with the world. And to complete the sacredness of the meditation place your hands in prayer position over your heart and honor the divine within yourself and all beings by saying “namaste.”

JUST This Breathinstead of trying to clear your mind, simply awake to the sensations of what it feels like to be sitting like Buddha under the Bodisattvha tree…or by the Charles…and take several, slow, deep, luxuriating breathes… breathe fully and just feel.