“Improper breathing is a common cause of ill health. If I had to limit my advice on healthy living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly. There is no single more powerful – or more simple- daily practice to further your health and well being than breath work.”Dr. Andrew Weil
All day every day we have to deal with stressors. Now we have them x 3. What was already hard, has just gotten much harder– the insomnia, the difficult boss, the unbalanced balance sheet, your weight loss efforts, your elderly caregiving, your health issue, your schoolwork, your recovery …. We all have our lists.
And, it ALL just got much more complicated.
Add the fear, panic, mayhem, logistics, isolation and the fear of no more Charmin for a long time and lives we barely keep in balance under “normal conditions,” have just gone really out of whack.
A simple way to deal with this is through our breath.
Your breath is a natural connector of body, mind and Spirit. It’s an anchor to your over anxious mind, a life giving oxygenator, and it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, shifting you from fight or flight to rest and digest. We were gifted with it at birth, and naturally, before we get involved it has a perfectly balanced way of bringing new life into our bodies, and expelling what we don’t need anymore so there is room for more .
Whereas stress can affect our breath, we can also use our breath to alleviate stress; it goes both ways. When we are stressed we hold our breath and become shallow breathers. I used to go through whole days holding my breath, usually when I was overdoing it trying to get a bunch done. The irony is- that unconscious reflex to hold your breath, ultimately slows you down, and creates a flood of cortisol running throughout your body which wreaks havoc in every way: inflammation, high blood pressure, weakened immune system, slowed metabolism to name a few.
And now we have a disease that we are literally holding our breath for; waiting, anxiously, for its arrival. And guess what, it’s a disease of the lungs, so why not prepare for the fact that they may need to be in fighting shape real soon.
Practice your breathing. A couple times a day for just a few minutes. And guess what, you will build a kind of muscle memory. If we practice breathing deep into our lungs, we open them up to a fuller and more oxygenating experience, and we retrain our breathing patterns as we take in and let go of more. I really don’t notice that holding my breath problem anymore. I attribute this to a meditation practice centered on breathing.
Here are a few really simple tools. Choose one you like. Different things will resonate for each of us. All good.
Just get breathing!
Breath of Fire -Also called “ego eradicator.” My favorite. Oxygenates your blood, energizes, removes stress and strengthens your diaphragm. This quick exercise is a great 2 minute practice before sitting in silence for a bit. Social distancing required, actually isolation–too weird to do with an audience. Start small with this one, or you may find yourself lightheaded. (I think I just challenged the competitive meditators!)
8-4-7 Dr. Andrew Weil’s favorite. (He calls it 4-7-8, I find 847 easier to remember bc I am a Chicagoan.) Count of eight for the exhale ,count of 4 on inhale, hold for 7. Couple pointer; find your comfort zone, the important part is exhale twice as long as inhale, and the sacred stillness in the pause. Be gentle, no unnatural breath holding.
Belly Breath : This one’s for my 8 year old nephew–self described as having a “Roaring Angry Tiger” that occasionally rears itshead. (You can put your hands on your belly too, as you belly breathe.)
Sarah Tomlin- Listen and relax:
Some additional favorite “cues” to consider:
- Picture an accordion,or an octopus with your lower lungs expanding out in all directions. A shiatsu teacher taught this once, remembering your lungs don’t just expand from the front. Breathe into the back of them and your sides as well. Envision the energy not just in front of you but to the sides and behind you .
- Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth, specifically in front of your teeth in the soft spot there. It is actually a serotonin producing pressure point. Thus the thumb sucking reflex in babies.
- Feel the energy in your body. (Not your brain.) The idea is to embody the Spirit of meditation, and not think about it.