Breathing for Inner Calm
Deep breathing is known to be calming; it deepens respiratory patterns and reduces the pulse by 10 to 15 percent.
When running a challenging marathon, hiking up the mountain, doing yoga or any type of exercise how you breathe is extremely important. Breathing can make an immense difference in stamina and energy. Taoism (the way of life) believes nutrition supplied by the air we breathe is even more vital to health and longevity than nutrition supplied by food. Fitness levels measured on people who have a regular deep breathing practice and yet do little exercise are surprisingly high. Our breath also acts as a bridge to move an emotional state from a difficult place to one of acceptance. Notice that when concentrating hard or hearing difficult news, we tend to stop breathing or our breathing becomes shallow. Throughout the day our breathing changes to reflect different emotional states and energetic requirements. Where a sigh is a spontaneous cleansing breath, a yawn is energizing. Many cultures advocate the rhythmic movement of breath as a practical solution to letting go of harmful feelings. The art of breathing has been around for more than 2,000 years (Chinese remedies include breathing exercises as a medicinal prescription). Many different types of breathing instructions are prescribed, some of them promise long life; others claim to enhance energy, dispel fatigue, increase sexual prowess, calm the nervous system or detoxify and more.
Developing a daily practice creates deep relaxation and well-being and also minimizes misplaced feelings and stress. Situations that we usually find irritating can be used to develop this practice. By this, I mean standing in queues, waiting for a service provider to answer the phone, or when stuck in traffic or the Doctors waiting room. These are all places that breathing can be practised leaving you with an absolute sense of calm instead of fury, impatience or a general bad mood. Here is an example of a beneficial breathing exercise you can practise anytime during your day.
Deep Belly Breathing
Stand, sit or lie down and generously relax, let everything flop and expand yourself downwards and sideways, fill out the space around you. Switch off and listen to your breathe for a few seconds. Notice whether you are breathing from your chest or your belly. Place your hand on your belly and slowly you will notice your breathe starts to move down into your belly. If not, and you breathe only from your chest give it some time and it will move to the deeper position of your belly. Deep in the belly there is a store of heat that you can connect to with deep breathing. See if you can visualize the heat amplifying and spreading through your body. Feel the heat as a blanket of peacefulness that calms and relaxes your nerves. Keep expanding the circumference of this heat. The longer you breathe the bigger the range you will reach until your intention extends past the boundaries of your body and out into the environment around you to other people. Then visualize breathing your good intentions back into your body realizing that what you put into the world is also there for you to benefit from.
Deep breathing massages internal organs and glands, purges tissues of toxins, purifies the bloodstream, stimulates hormone secretions and greatly enhances resistance and immunity.
Although India has the breathing science of Pranayama and China has ChiKung, the west is far behind in its understanding of how breathing can benefit. It's not the oxygen, nitrogen or any other gaseous chemical that carries the benefit but rather the negative ion. This is a tiny, highly active molecular fragment that carries a negative electrical charge. The negative charge is where the benefit is. Pollutants, cigarette smoke and toxic chemicals have a positive charge. They trap positive ions, neutralize them and rob the air of vitality. Bbreathing this air is equivalent to eating junk food full of ‘empty calories’. People are exhausted after a day in air conditioning or closed spaces because the air is devitalised by the positive ions.
Studies in India show a substantial increase in the red blood cell count after 30 minutes of deep breathing. In his memoirs, twelfth century poet Su Tung-pohe recommends trying breathing exercises over a prolonged period to realise some of its many benefits. “If you try it for twenty days, already your spirit will feel different, the region around your navel will feel warm during practice, your waist and legs will feel light and supple, and your eyes and complexion will grow bright and lustrous.”
Breathing exercises can be learnt from Chi Kung practitioners, from the Art of Living and at certain meditation classes.
THREE DEEP BREATHS
An in-depth look at the mechanics and chemistry of happiness highlights attitude as a primary factor. Where circumstances and challenges may sometimes transcend the realm of our influence, how we choose to feel and react is completely in our control.
According to Thomas Crum, author of Three Deep Breaths: Finding Power and Purpose in a Stressed-Out World (Berret-Koehler), we are only three deep breaths away from an empowering attitude. Crum believes that rather than struggling against difficulties, allow your attitude to flow with them. This approach is more in harmony with nature and life flow. In his breathing technique each breath comes with a specific intention designed to create a positive mind shift. The first is the Centering Breath where you breathe in balance and energy and get yourself into the present moment. The next is the Possibility Breath and requires breathing in power and purpose while envisioning being the highest being you can be. The third breath is the Discovery Breath where you breathe in mystery and let go of judgements. Each breath should be slow and long with deep diaphragmatic movement. This technique is a tool you can take with you anywhere. It transfers challenging situations from stressful to energising, from anxious to centering and worrying to inspiring. The Centering Breath gives you control over your response, the Possibility Breath gives you a higher purpose than your ego and the Discovery Breath turns a stressful situation into a learning opportunity. Besides changing attitude, deep breaths supply up to seven times more oxygen to the brain and revitalise the whole system.