We start our journey on the earth with our first breath.
We end our journey on the earth with our last breath.
We take around 20,000 breaths each and every day, 24/7.
Most of our inner "garbage" is transported out of our body with our breathing
Our lungs are not only there to transport oxygen in our blood stream, but play an important role for our immune system
Proper breathing supports our lymphatic system
And we barely pay attention...
I know I have written about breathing already. I just cannot get away from it.
Sorry. Can you...?
Breathing happens automatically, yes. Just like our digestion, our heart beat, the function of our liver and all other organs. But do you decide consciously how your heart is beating and how much adrenaline your adrenal glands release into the blood stream? Rather not.
On the other you CAN control how you are breathing. That's by the way what Freedivers do in order to hold their breath longer. It's not only about the size (of the lungs), you know...
There are many ways how to breathe and therefore how our body functions and how we feel. Different breathing techniques will help to balance our our nervous system, slow down our heart beat, make us feel relaxed or excited.
Scientific studies confirm that breathing techniques have a healing effect on cancer, COPD, asthma, high blood pressure and many other ailments. The old Hindu yogis must have done something right over the last 1000s of years...
And here we are in the middle of yoga. If you want to know about yoga in general, have a look at this post.
In yoga we talk of "Pranayama" and take breathing further from the pure physical level to a more subtle, energetic level. Prana is the life force, energy that is in everybody and everything, that makes life alive. By the way, the Hindus don't have exclusive rights of this life force, no worries. All cultures and religions have their own exploitation rights.
They just call it differently: Odem, Atman, Chi, Mana, Holy Spirit, etc. etc.
Pranayama means as much as "controlling", "enhancing" the life force. A simple conclusion is that if you control your breathing, you control your (bloody monkey) mind. In advanced Pranayama we breathe less and less. And our mind becomes stiller and stiller. Sounds attractive to me...
"Proper" breathing according to Hatha Yoga is practicing Pranayama - quite specific techniques that help you to breathe more efficiently, to move and contain prana in certain parts of your body, to change and uplift your energetic system.
Not every breathing exercise is Pranayama
In Pranayama it's a lot about retaining the breath (energy) and therefore enhancing prana, pushing it into the right direction or avoiding is to slip away. The art is to do all that without any urge to breathe. More advanced techniques include the use of the so-called "bandhas" or energy locks.
We engage certain muscles (in the pelvic floor, around the solar plexus and/or in the throat) to push the energy and/or keep it where we want to control it. Retaining the breath and using those bands can be a bit tricky if we lack experience. On a physical level you might just faint.
On an energetic level this might lead to an overflow of energy that you cannot control any more.
It's a bit like learning how to drive a car with the aim to join Formula One one day. You'll start repeating and repeating how to park the car, use the indicator, clutch, and so on. It will take a while before you have your first ride on the motorway. And the Nuremburg Ring is still far away... You might reach there one day, but hopefully you'll get a lot out of the different experiences on the way... without any accident.
So, before we dream of Formula One, let's learn how to walk before we learn how to run. Or: Let's start learning simple breathing techniques before we blow away our minds.
Simple breathing techniques have some simple advantages:
We can ALWAYS do them
They can have an immediate effect
Anybody can do breathing exercises (different breathing exercises for different people)
We always have the tools we need at hand (or rather in the chest)
3 simple breathing techniques to start with
1. Uups, I am actually breathing!
Just bring your attention to your breathing.
It helps if you put your hands gently on your belly.
Feel how the air enters your nostrils.
Feel where the air goes.
Where do you feel movement, created by the air that finds its way into your lungs?
Does your chest move?
Does your belly move?
Does it move fast or slowly?
Shallow or deeply?
What does it feel like when the air is leaving your body?
Is there a pause after the inhale? Is there a pause after the exhale?
Do this exercise the next time before you go to bed and then again before you get up in the morning. Make it a habit. And get to know yourself a bit better.
2. My belly is a balloon
Now you start guiding your breath into your belly. No, your belly is not really breathing. It is still your lungs. By guiding your breath into your abdomen, you're pushing your diaphragm downwards, making more room in your chest cavity, giving space for the alveoli to really expand properly.
Your belly expands like a balloon when you inhale.
And sinks back down on your exhale.
The art is to keep your chest still.
If this feels difficult, put one hand on your chest and one on your belly. This helps to control where the air is flowing.
While pushing your diaphragm downwards, you're giving your intestines, your liver and your heart a nice gentle massage. Your organs function better. And who is not up for a relaxing massage... ?
If these benefits are not enough:
Deep Belly breathing
Slows down the heart rate
Can lower blood pressure
Slows down and deepens the breath, hence organs get more oxygen in a more efficient way
Triggers the vagus nerve (that's the main nerve that makes us relax)
Releases muscular and mental tension
It is the natural way to breathe. We have all done it before we "un-learned" it with civilization, ideal of beauty (flat belly), stress, and so on.
3.Breathing with Freud
Now you want to take it further and learn how to properly exhale. It's on the exhalation that we really "relax". Ever tried to relax your muscles on a deep inhale? Try it. Now.
And then sigh out deeply. Can you keep your muscles tight? Probably difficult.
So we want to focus more on the exhale. To get rid of old, stale air, stuff we don't want and don't need any more. Often we only exhale a little part of what we have inhaled. And that is what makes us uneasy, nervous, upset, angry. It's our lacking exhale. Not the situation.
To make it easy, have a look at this video and try out the Freud (or Oxford Dictionary or Bible or favorite book ) Breathing.
Let's become aware that we are breathing. Then let's breathe "properly" into the belly. And breathe out deeply. Take your time. That's proper enough for now. You'll feel the difference already.
I will be back with some more sophisticated breathing stuff later. Until then: Enjoy!