The Best Part Is It’s Free
You probably do not think much about breathing. Your miraculous body does this for you automatically. However, you will be happy to learn that you can actually change the way you feel by turning your attention to your breath.
It’s free; you don’t need a partner; you can do it anytime of the day or night; and it makes you feel incredible!!! It is probably the simplest yet most profound thing you will ever come to know about your body: I am referring to your intake of OXYGEN. The way you breathe affects your mood, your level of energy, your motivation, and just about everything you do.
As you read this article, take a moment to notice your breath and posture. Do you feel tightness in your jaw, neck, back, shoulders, or anywhere else? Those tense areas may signal the fact that you are restricting the flow of breath to that part of your body.
With each inhale, breath oxygenates and energizes your cells, organs and fibers throughout your body transporting vital nutrients to sustain your life force. With each exhale, toxins and emotional stress are released with the carbon dioxide. The longer and deeper the inhale, the more new oxygen and energy is coming in. The longer and deeper the exhale, the more toxins are leaving your body, letting go of the old and making room for the new.
How Do You Handle Overload?
If you are operating on ‘overload’ – financially taxed, overwhelmed with managing a household and children, or in the midst of a crisis – how you choose to react to your particular situation determines the level of stress and physical tension in your body. Stress, fear about what may happen next, and anxiety lead to disease. The good news is that you can actually control your level of stress by allowing your breath to act as a calming agent. Pausing to listen to your breath and releasing tight areas in your body with the help of conscious deep breathing not only brings a sense of tranquility and peace to your life, but allows your body’s natural process of balance – homeostasis – to function at its optimum level and keep you free from disease.
Focus On The Depth Of Your Breath
Shallow breathing affects many areas of your body in a negative way. When you bring your awareness to your breath, you begin to notice areas of your body that hold tension when you are not breathing fully: typically, the jaw is clenched, the brow is furled, the base of the skull, the shoulders and neck are tight and even the muscles around the ears are tense (who’d have thought?) Ida Rolf, Ph.D., the founder of Rolfing, believes that the jaw and the pelvic floor are related through the spine. Because the jaw is connected to the top of the spine and the pelvic floor is connected to the base of the spine (take a look at a picture of a skeleton) she believes if one of those areas is tense, most likely the other area is as well. So if you are a jaw clencher, your pelvic floor is probably clenching as well. This clenching restricts oxygen and blood flow which in turn tightens your physical body and restricts your chi – life force.
Phrases like, “Soften the brow,” and “Release the jaw,” are helpful reminders to consciously release these areas. One student of mine said she woke up in the middle of the night and realized she had been clenching her jaw in her sleep, and heard the words, “Release your jaw” which I frequently say during class. This allowed her to consciously let go of the tightness in her jaw which also released other areas indirectly affected by this clenching. Another student told me she often repeats to herself “shoulders down and back,” as she walks her dogs, which opens the chest and allows for deeper breathing, a concept she was never aware of before.
Your Posture Affects Your Breath
Your Posture affects your ability to take in nourishing breaths. When your shoulders round forward when sitting or standing, the space for your lungs to fully expand is limited. When you take your shoulders down and back, this opens up the ribcage in the front and creates more space between the vertebrae in the spinal column. Elongating the neck by imaging a ‘skyhook’ lifting you up toward the sky from the crown of your head will create more space for the lungs to oxygenate every single cell of your body.
Create New Habits
Discovering the importance of effective breathing and applying these techniques on a daily basis will dramatically change the way you feel and increase the level of your overall health. Your breathing techniques will improve with practice, just like practicing yoga, playing the piano, or playing tennis. The more you practice, the better you become. Just as your yoga routine is called a ‘practice’, you improve the ability to arrive at a peaceful place by practicing effective breathing. Remind yourself each time you are challenged with a potentially stressful situation that it is time to ‘pause’, listen to your breath, and let go of the tightness beginning to build in your body. You will soon begin to access this healing breath automatically when you sense stress setting in. A yoga, meditation, or pranayama class are great ways to practice effective breathing techniques.
If you cannot attend class, make the time for yourself during the day in 5-minute increments, 2-3 times a day. I call this the ‘Pause’, learned from my Yoga Teacher Eric Schiffmann. During a Yoga retreat in Isla Mujeres in Mexico, we were required to ‘Pause’ each and every morning for at least 5 minutes, and encouraged to do this as many times as we could throughout the day. I took this suggestion home with me and almost ten years later, continue to use it daily. You can choose a meaningful object such as a stone, gem, or miniature statue that you place in your hand each time you practice the ‘pause.’ By doing this you are creating a ritual – a time and a place that feels ‘official’ in which to practice.
See The Difference In Your Life
Practicing the ‘pause’ will encourage you to stop and think of your breath – are you holding it during stressful situations, is your breath shallow? Most people do not breathe to their lung’s full capacity unless reminded to do so. It sounds silly, but it is true. Too often I notice people not breathing as fully as they should, resulting in tension both physically as well as emotionally. I am continually reminding students during class to ‘Relax your jaw’ and ‘Breathe,’ as they look at me with a silent ‘thank you’, realizing they have been clenching their jaw and holding their breath.
So as the lyrics to Anna Nalick’s song entitled “Breathe (2 am)” say “Breathe, just breathe.” And I can assure you that when you do, you are on the road to a more vibrant, joyful you.
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