Facing Life and Death with Breath
As one friend copes with the loss of his father and another experiences the birth of her first child, I am again reminded this week of the significance breath holds in our everyday. Ironically, whether it is new life or death consuming us, we may not always have words but we do always have our breath. It helps to relieve our tension, reduces anxiety and allows us to work through the many emotions that overwhelm us.
As you breathe in yoga, mindfulness and focus are brought to your mat. In each pose you take, in each sequence you work through, breath is at the forefront. You learn to consistently use breath to lengthen, deepen and let go of tension. You recognize that when you hold your breath your body becomes stiff and strain can result.
According to Angie Ferenc MA, LCMHC of New England Counseling and Trauma Associates, “As a VT licensed clinical mental health counselor, I work often with my clients in learning and practicing tools to effectively cope & manage distressing emotions. When we find ourselves feeling triggered, stressed, angry, overwhelmed or anxious, we typically are breathing with a tight, shallow breath. This type of breathing sends an instinctual message to our brain to be in fight or flight mode. Just by focusing on deepening our breath, our brains are able to shift out of that flight or fight mode and into a state of calm and relaxation; one of my clients refers to this process as sending a ‘bmail’ to her brain to relax. In any given day, humans have over 6,000 different thoughts. That’s a lot of noise and clutter to navigate through! And often, those thoughts are either focused on the past or the future and leave us feeling stressed and worried. By drawing attention to our breath during times of heightened stress and anxiety, we are able to move out of our heads and into our bodies. Focusing on our breath grounds us in the here and the now and allows you to be present and better able to simply be with what is.”
Consider your breath as you move through your day. When you become overworked or stressed, you may tend to hold your breath or take rapid, shallow breaths. Yet, when the exertion is over you often let out a deep sigh of relief, allowing your muscles to relax and signaling your brain that all is well. As you continue to breathe your heart rate decreases and oxygen is transported to your organs and muscles, bringing you back in balance.
To build awareness of your breath you do not necessarily have to use traditional pranayama exercises (i.e., alternate-nostril breathing). Instead, begin by finding a comfortable position, such as sitting in your favorite chair, lying flat on your back or resting in child’s pose. Bring focus to your breath; breathing through your nose with a closed mouth helps to warm your body from within. Notice aspects of your inhalation. How long is your inhale breath? 3 seconds? 5 seconds? If you expand the length of your inhale do you feel an expansion in your chest or your belly? Maybe both? Then take the time to notice these same aspects on your exhalation.
If it seems challenging to detect how your body reacts to your inhale or exhale try using your hands. Bring your left hand to your lower abdomen and your right hand to your upper abdomen; notice the rise and fall of your belly as the wave of breath moves through your body. Then try moving both hands to your chest; here observing the rise and fall of your torso. Does your breath feel shallow or deep?
Hearing our breath, uncovering the steadiness it holds calms and centers us. Our breath is our strength.
~The divine in me salutes the divine in you, Namaste~