The breath of life

Breathing is essential to life. 

It’s the one thing that everyone, everywhere is continuously doing.  A person who lives to be 80 years old will take over half a billion breaths in her lifetime. But think -- how often do you actually even notice that you’re breathing?

Most of the time, when we breathe, we’re on autopilot. It just happens, without our awareness or control. This might seem like a good thing, not a problem. After all, who would want to have to consciously control all of those half-billion breaths? Mostly, we’re grateful to know that our bodies will breath on their own, without needing our input.

However, the stress of modern life can short change our breathing. 

Our bodies are designed to breathe deeply, filling our lungs and down into our bellies. We need that oxygen down to the cellular level, to provide energy for our biochemical pathways. But researchers at Harvard Medical School note that when people experience stress, they typically begin “chest breathing.” Instead of deep, slow, cleansing breaths that reach down to the belly, chest breaths are more rapid and shallow, leading to higher levels of both physical tension and emotional anxiety. This just makes our stress worse!

Chest breathing, and stress itself, isn’t inherently a bad thing. When our ancestors lived in the wild, our stress response told us to move fast and run away from the tiger in the bushes. But it can’t distinguish between the tiger and the everyday chaos of modern life, so too often we find ourselves stuck in the state scientists call “fight, flight or freeze mode.” That’s a hard way to live!

Paying attention to our breath can help break the cycle of stress.

You’ve probably heard the expression “take a deep breath,” as a way to relax, right? When we consciously choose to take control of our breath, we can move from shallow, stressed breathing to the powerful, deep breathing our bodies crave -- and help shift ourselves away from anxiety and into a more peaceful, calm state. 

Try these two simple breathing techniques.

Belly breathing: 

    1.    Check in with your feelings and your breath throughout the day.
    2.    When you notice you’re stressed, take a moment to breath. Find a place to sit if you can.
    3.    Close your eyes and relax. Inhale slowly through your nose, drawing the air deep into your              lungs. Let your belly rise and expand outward.
    4.    As your lungs fill completely, pause for a moment or two.
    5.    Exhale slowly, starting from the top of your lungs down to the bottom.
    6.    Repeat this for 2-3 minutes.

4-7-8 meditative breathing:

Tieraona Low Dog, MD, a physician and natural healer, demonstrates this nourishing practice she recommends we do twice a day to support wellness. 

The more we practice conscious deep breathing, the more it becomes a habit. Over time, we can begin to break our pattern of shallow breathing, and the stress that comes with it. Many people also find that a few minutes of conscious breathing is a great way to start or end the day. It can be part of a period of meditation or prayer, or simply a moment to sit and reflect. If you have difficulty falling asleep, this could be your ticket.

Invite a little calm into your world!