“The True Man breathes with his heels; the mass of men breathe with their throats” By Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu
Did you know your breath is a powerful healing and rejuvenation tool that responds in an instant to your personal command? You can very easily invite more pockets of relaxation into your day simply by checking in with the flow of your breath. It’s that simple.
The following 15 tips are drawn from all the tai chi, yoga, huna, qi gong and other energy classes I have taken over many years along with countless lessons I have learned from masters all over the world.
- Your breath is the first thing to respond in your body: Your breath will respond and does adjust according to what you are thinking, feeling, observing, hearing, tasting, touching, sensing or experiencing at any given time. It is intimately connected to your physical, emotional and spiritual state.
- Check the depth of your inhale: Does your normal inhale only reach the middle or upper area of your chest? Or is your normal inhale even shorter stopping around your shoulder, neck and throat area? This is a fantastic point to start developing a greater understanding of your breath by focusing on the depth of your inhale. A full inhale should fill your lungs and expand your abdomen. Place your hands onto either side of your lower ribs … feel them expand with each inhale. Then place your hands onto your belly and feel it rise and fall with each breath.
- Let it go and move on with a releasing exhale: An extended exhale in times of stress pushes any drama, confusion and upset away from you. Short, quick, shallow breathes will attract any stress and drama closer to you. By slowing and deepening your breath, you create a healthy distance between you and whatever is going on around you. A deep releasing exhale will support you and allow you to release it and move on. Aaaaahhhhhh.
- 70% of waste is eliminated through your lungs: Did you know 70% of our body’s waste products are eliminated via our lungs and the rest through the urine, skin and feces? When the efficiency of our lungs is reduced due to poor breathing less oxygen is available to our cells, it slows down the flow of blood which carries wastes from the kidneys and lungs. Our lymphatic system which fights off viral and bacterial invaders is weakened along with a slower digestive process. It might surprise you that breathing deeply can actually help you balance your weight. More on that in a few days.
- Your breathing habits influence the flow of your day: Shallow, fast, constricted or tight breathing reflects that you live your days in a constant stressed out – push and pull state. If you notice, when you are in fight or flight mode your breathing is very shallow. You tend to overreact to that which is happening around you and waste your precious energy unnecessarily. Your days are rushed, and time is always an issue. You have forgotten how to relax, be still and receive. Reverse your breathing habits to experience a different flow to your day.
- Quality breathing can release fear, anger and sadness: Your breath bocomes disturbed when experiencing stressful emotions. To prevent these unwanted emotions from being pushed down and trapped in your body, breathe into your organs. While studying Qi Gong we were taught to breathe into our organs. This was a radical learning experience for me. I saw miraculous changes almost immediately. Breathe into your lungs to remove sadness and grief. Breathe into your kidneys to dissolve fear. Breathe into your liver to dissolve anger. Breathe into your heart to open yourself up to more loving experiences. Breathe in gently and deeply (never forced) to invite healthy energy into your organs, now consciously feel the stressful emotion flow out of your body with each exhale.
- The nose for breathing and the mouth for eating: No matter if I’m doing yoga, tai chi or qi gong all my teachers have recommended to breathe in and out through my nose. Researching breath in greater depth I have not found one single instance of anyone suggesting otherwise. One important reason which many experts share is that nose breathing improves and corrects the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood.
- Breathing activates your nervous system: When the sympathetic nervous system is activated you are living life with the “accelerator” on full throttle all the time. You are in “fight or flight” mode and constantly releasing stress into your body. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system is like putting the “brake on” to life. It helps slow your body down which in turn allows restoration and rejuvenation. The key to activating your parasympathetic nervous system is to place your full attention onto your breath. Close your eyes and allow your breath to slow down relax and become gentle. Let your whole body absorb your now gentle breath. Another great way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system is to practice a little restorative yoga for as little as 5 minutes in childs pose or legs up the wall. This is particularly important for those suffering from adrenal insufficiency.
- Experience the pause after your exhale: Take time to be in tune to your breath. Don’t force anything or rush straight into your next breath. Notice the very natural stillness and slight pause after each exhale. Infuse gentleness into your breathing. Marinate for a moment with its nourishing flow. Don’t push your next breath into the future, particularly if you haven’t even got there yourself. Become present, live in the now and experience the pause after your next exhale. There is a bubble of peace to be found in that pause.
- Your body can’t relax if your mind and breath are racing: Your thoughts are directly linked to the quality of your breathing. Busy, overactive thinking often means short, shallow and quick breathes. By focusing on calming your mind you will automatically be calming your breath and in turn relaxing your body. Meditation is an awesome way to calm your mind. Another option is to get into child’s pose for a few minutes. (See image at the beginning of the post) This very simple yoga pose that forces your mind to surrender. Your breath and thoughts have no choice, but to slow down.
- A conscious exhale removes toxins from your body: Spending longer on your exhale through your nose will remove old, stuck or stagnant carbon dioxide from the very bottom of your lungs, along with toxic bi-products the body has produced. In addition, a deep sign (strong exhale) is often a release of worries and heavy thoughts. A good exhale can help you let it go emotionally and physically.
- Experience a yogic breath: Anyone who practices yoga with be familiar with the 3 main stages of yogic breathing. Lying comfortably on your back or sitting up in a chair inhale. Firstly notice your collar bones and upper part of your chest expand, then follow the inhale down by placing a hand on either side of your ribs and feel them expand. Lastly place your hands gently on your belly/abdomen area and notice the rise and fall of your tummy.
- Pulling your stomach in reduces your oxygen intake: One of the main benefits of breathing of course is to invite loads of oxygen into your body. Restricting your oxygen intake comprises the health of your body. To invite oxygen deep into your abdomen, diaphragm area keep your belly soft, relaxed and open. Touch and massage it frequently as your belly is the very centre of your breath. Many ancient traditions such as Taoism believe we can accumulate and store energy in our belly area. It is often known as our seat of power.
- Breathing is not just for your lungs its for your whole body: You can consciously choose to direct the flow of your breath into absolutely any part of your body, for whatever purpose. Improve energy flow, dissolve tension, release a build up of pressure in your head area, ground you, energerize you, de-stress you or to simply send smiles into all your organs. I ‘m prone to being vague and spacey. To ground myself I often imagine my breath flowing down into my legs, feet, toes and then into the ground. It helps me come back into my body.
- Shallow breathing causes memory loss: The Taoists believe that loss of oxygen though shallow breathing ie. your inhale only goes as deep as your throat or top of your lungs, is the primary cause of memory loss in the elderly. I think there are many factors to that last bit but…. I do know that the food we eat, the air we breathe, how we breathe, what we use on our bodies, what we allow in our thoughts and emotions all play a part in our health.