Breath and life...
Breath is considered our life force. We check for breathing when someone's in physical crisis. We tell ourselves, "take a deep breath, calm down" when feeling our stress levels rise. We teach breathing techniques to expectant mothers, to athletes, and to those working through trauma. Intuitively, we know how critical and how miraculous the breath is. Yet many of us have actually learned to breathe in ways that are not only unnatural but unhealthy.
Breathing should be easy. Deepak Chopra describes it as "the body being breathed" (2010). I see people in yoga regularly force the breath out during the natural abdominal expansion and gasp for shallow breaths during contractions. They are trying so hard to complete the exercise and regulate their breathing, a natural process, that they are literally fighting their own nervous systems. Talk about stress!
If we can learn to relax and allow our bodies to "be breathed" we can have an immediate impact on our overall health physically and emotionally. A study published in 2011 found that five minutes, just five, of slow, deep breathing--roughly six deep breaths per minute--reduced blood pressure and heart rate in hypertensive patients (Bhavanni et al).
Most people take between 10-16 breaths per minute during regular activity and 6-8 during periods of rest. Most people also use only the upper third of their lungs due to stress--actually holding the breath to a degree subconsciously--and even posture. Beth Shaw (2016) describes the modern lifestyle of sitting for long stretches driving, texting, working on our computers, watching our screens as a forward flexion lifestyle. It is nearly impossible to take an actual deep breath in this posture.
We can't change our posture or our breathing overnight, but we can start today making small changes. Find a time today, whether while driving your children to school, prior to blessing the meal as a family, before you enter that high-pressure meeting, or to prepare yourself for bed. Set a timer for just one minute at a time at first. During that minute, practice what is called a three-part breath.
A Simple Three Part Breath Has Profound Effects:
Sit tall. Inhale your breath deeply into your abdomen then your rib cage, then your chest, then your throat. There is no need to hold onto the breath now. Just release it in a slow exhale, completely letting everything go. Notice if you attempted to use your shoulders to initiate the breath instead of your abdomen. That's a symptom of a flexion lifestyle, and you noticing allows you to make a change. On your next breath, focus on beginning in your abdomen, filling it deeply with breath. Feel the difference. Celebrate your progress. Repeat this several times in one-minute practices. Try this for one week. Each week add one more minute until you are practicing this simple breath in five-minute sessions.
This simple practice lowers blood pressure and heart rate, decreases anxiety, relaxes your body and mind together, improves concentration and awareness, and even begins to strengthen your core muscles. Breath is the life force. Let it fill and heal you as you prepare yourself for the back-to-school season and maybe you'll be able to hold onto some of that summer relaxation even begin to feel renewed with each breath not just each vacation.