Are you breathing?
Stop. (Participate and listen). Are you breathing?
Where is your breath, this very second? Are you holding it? Is it’s slowly oozing out of you in a deep sigh? Are you sniffing it in, with short, sharp, shallow bursts? Is it stuck in your chest or at back of your throat? Or is it flowing freely up and down your spine?
This is your life. This one breath is your one and only life. You only ever get one of these babies at a time – so are you treating it right, are you paying attention, is it serving you?
I didn’t think so. You probably forgot you were breathing at all!
Breathing goes way back
The breath has long been recognised in many eastern traditions and practices, for thousands of years in fact. In Hindu philosophy and yogic meditation teachings it is called ‘prana’; in Chinese tradition, when practising Tai chi it is the eponymous ‘chi’ (or ‘Qi’) – they all speak to the breath as the same thing though – the cosmic, life giving force and the carrier of life energy.
How did the breath gain the prestige of being the bodies key anchor and force? Isn’t our heart the most important thing, the beating centre of our being? Or the brain, the collection of nerve endings firing chemicals across our synapses to create our consciousness? They all have their place. And the human body is in itself a study in miracles! But the breath.. now that’s a special piece of the puzzle.
Breaking down the science
It’s the only system in our body that is both conscious and subconscious. The respiratory centre in your brain stem is autonomously, continually reminding your lungs to breath – you breathe without conscious thought. But the unique characteristic of breathing is that it can also be voluntarily regulated.
It is the gateway to activating the parasympathetic system and the one pathway you have to gaining control over typically involuntary process like your heartbeat. But much more than that, it can give you control over other slippery subjects – like your thoughts and emotions.
You know the ones I’m talking about – the kind of thoughts that run amok in your mind, the kind of emotions that knock over self esteem, drag around fear and stomp on gratitude. This is where the ancient practice of meditation comes in.
Tricks of the trade – breath work for beginners
- Sitting, or lying (whatever is most comfortable) in a quiet space
- Spending a few minutes (as little as 2 or as many as 20) focusing on your breath moving in and out of your body
- Whenever you notice yourself thinking about things and stuff that aren’t your breath – just gently bring your attention back to your breathing again
Box breathing is a more structured version of breath focus, that might be great if you know your mind prefers a more process-driven approach. It’s the same principle, but with a specific breathing pattern:
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position in a comfortable space
- Breath in for a count of 4, hold your breath inside your body for a count of 4 (without tension or tightness in your lungs), breath out for a count of 4 and then hold the breath out for a count of 4 (again, without tension, as much as possible)
- Change the count depending on your lung capacity (counts of 3, or 5, whatever works best) and work to whatever feels good
- If you find you’ve stopped counting and that your mind has wandered off, just re-focus and continue the count
Control your breath – control your life
The experience of losing your breath isn’t unique or singular – it’s universal and completely normal.
But, inherently, so is your breath. It’s yours. It’s your magic. It’s your life force.
It’s the path to your inside – literally, physically – but also in that other way, the warm, fuzzy way, that gives you back the power over your own mind, the quiet and the calm and the control.
Your meditation practice doesn’t have to be long or fancy. It just has to be yours.
So are you paying attention yet? Where is your breath? And where will it take you next?