Without water a person will live for 3-5 days. Without food a person can survive for around three weeks. Without sleep; just over a week. However, without breath, you will survive little more than a few minutes. Our breath – the most vital and fundamental aspect of our existence – is often overlooked or taken for granted. When we are hungry, thirsty, or tired we seek nourishment in these areas. So when we are stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, we should seek comfort in that which can bring us back to the very basis of our experience.
Asthma, panic attacks and hyperventilation illustrate how important our connection with our breath can be. Noticing and understanding your breath can tell you a lot about the state of your being. Is your breath short and syncopated? Long and deep? Are you breathing into your chest or your belly? Most importantly, how do you feel when stop and focus on your breathing? Our breath can be used to release tension, relieve stress and reinforce the connection between our bodies and minds.
In yoga, breath control is know as Pranayama. In Sanskrit, Prana means ‘life force’ and ayama is ‘to extend of draw out’. Together, they mean the control of our vital life force (our breath). Many traditional yoga teachers will start their day with Pranayama every morning. However, if you are not a yoga master, you can start bringing some more awareness to your breath with the following techniques.
Locate your breathing. Are you breathing into the upper of lower parts of the body? Is your breath deep or shallow? How frequently are you breathing? What is the quality of your breath?
2. Deep Belly Breathing
Place both hands on your belly. Take deep breaths into your diaphragm so you can feel your belly blowing up like a balloon in your hands. Do this at least 10 times, making sure your exhales are as long as your inhales. This nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system; otherwise know as the ‘rest and digest’ system. Activating this system is essentially an antidote to stress, and will make us feel calm and centred.
3. Three Part Breath
Start by taking a normal inhale, then exhale in three distinct parts, holding your breath between them. It is important to make sure you’re not exhaling in the pauses. Do this 10 times and soon you will notice your inhales are longer and a sense of peacefulness will wash over you. This technique is great for relaxing after a busy day, or if you struggle to fall asleep at night.
Mindful breathing is not something that should just be practiced during yoga or meditation. Sharpening your skills on breath control will undoubtedly aid you in all areas of your life. When we establish a connect to our breath, notching the depth and richness of each inhale and exhale, we can nourish our entire system. The breath connects our mind, body and spirit. It is the embodiment of the fundamental life force that runs through all living beings. Breathing consciously is as important to our health as a good nights sleep or a hot meal. Next time you feel overwhelmed or tense, try tuning into your breath, and notice the difference for yourself.
Big love Jo & jxx