The Topic:B – is for breathing.
We know early Buddhists claimed that working with the breath invoked a sense of calm and insight. Whatever the faith, they mostly agree that conscious breathing practices contribute to a more embodied experience (embodied meaning that the mind influences the body, as does the body influences the mind (1)).
We understand through the study of yoga and also psychology that calming the breath, calms the mind. This is science. There is nothing extraordinary about it, other than how astonishing our bodies are! The intention of sharing this topic about the breath is simply to help make you aware of it. And to not take it for granted. Appreciate it and nurture it. The intention is for you just to breathe, with all of you.
In order to live we need oxygen, which we extract from air. Without it, the cells of our bodies would perish. From our very first breath to our last the link between the mind and body is breath. How our body respires will be greatly influenced by our emotions as well as physical motions. The respiratory centre of the brain subconsciously controls our breathing. The practice of yoga helps us learn how we breathe, have knowledge of which muscles support the breathing system and feel what they are doing. We know that we have a rib cage that protects our heart and lungs, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles work to create the movement of breath. During yoga practices of breath work (pranayama breathing) we pay great attention to the expansion and compression of the rib cage. When we inhale our chest expands, the diaphragm drops, and thoracic cavity grows and as the chest expands the air flows into the lungs which then absorbs the oxygen. On our exhale the diaphragm and intercostal muscles relax and return to their resting position (2).
Now, real life:
It is worthwhile to practice conscious breathing every day. Take time on waking, or before bed to mindfully breathe. Of course, you don’t have to do this consciously all day, we have an autonomic nervous system that does that for us and to the best of my knowledge I don’t believe anyone has perished from forgetting to breath. That said the benefits of conscious breath could really be of benefit to anyone that makes it a regular practice of their day. Now, if I ask you if you can find 3 minutes of your day to dedicate to conscious breathing do you think you could? I really hope so! If not, then perhaps you REALLY need this time more than ever! So, let’s look at how we can use 3 minutes, of the 1440 we have each day, to do something good for ourselves.
What You need:
- You (body and mind!)
- 3 minutes
What to do:
- Pick a time of your day where you can easily focus on your breathing, perhaps before you eat a meal, before you get out of the car or start driving, when out walking the dog (or yourself). Find a habit that you already have in place and piggyback off it! It is one of the best ways to create new habits when they are connected to ones that you already have.
- Make sure that this time is likely to be uninterrupted, I appreciate this is not always possible, but think about it. Can you set the alarm 3 minutes early, or delay eating your meal by 3 minutes?
- Come as you are, whatever you are wearing, smelling like, about to do…it really doesn’t matter. Just turn up and be present.
- Make sure you are comfortable, seated is good, but so is walking, so whatever position you feel good in. This can change on different days and times, that’s ok, just go with it.
- Start to breathe. Yes, you will have been breathing already, but start to notice the inhalation and exhalation through your nostrils. Feel the breath travel towards your throat, feel your chest expand and rise. As you exhale, feel your breath leave your body and out through your nostrils into the space around you. Feel your chest sink, your shoulders soften, your belly button drawing into your back. Try and practice evening out your breath, so inhaling count to 4 breaths let’s say, and exhale for 4 breaths. Keep this up for the 3 minutes.
- It may feel tricky to do, but just trust yourself and relax into it. Breathing mindfully with awareness takes practice. Even our Buddhists ancestors had to practice their meditation, I don’t think they were born in a zen like state!
(adapted from (3)).
You can always develop your practice, in my classes we always have a focus on the breath, at first people may find breathwork a bit weird and funky, but once we learn to leave our ego at the door and hop on the mat, we are all good to go! As I read somewhere once (sorry cannot remember to credit), “less egos, more amigos” I love that – I think I would like it on a t-shirt…would you?
(1) McNerney.S., (2011). A brief guide to embodied cognition. Why you are not your brain. [online] Scientific American Blog Network. Available at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/a-brief-guide-to-embodied-cognition-why-you-are-not-your-brain/[Accessed 1 Aug.2018]
(2) Formaggia, L., Quarteroni, A., & Veneziani, A. (eds.). (2010). Cardiovascular Mathematics: Modeling and simulation of the circulatory system. Vol. 1. Springer Science & Business Media.
(3) Swami, K., & Sturgess, S. (2003). The yoga book: A practical guide to self-realization. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.