I want to share with you about possibly the most important, most misunderstood, simplest, yet most complex functions of the human body: THE BREATH. I hope you’ll keep reading because what I’m going to share in this and coming articles can literally change your life. For some, it could even save it.
I’ve been reading and studying lots about breathing over the years, since I work with it so much. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t know how to breath! And you wouldn’t believe how powerfully you can change your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual/energetic health and well-being by learning to harness the power of the breath. I’ve seen amazing changes in clients’ physical, emotional, mental and spiritual lives just through intentional and conscious breathing.
That’s what I’m going to share with you in this and future articles.
One curious thing about breath is that it has this paradoxical quality: unlike other body systems, it is an unconscious, automatic function, and yet we can take control of it and use it consciously. And, get this, by using breath consciously, we actually can regulate all other systems and organs in the body! That’s pretty powerful for something we barely even pay attention to.
Notice this for example—when something shows up, an emotionally charged situation—whether pleasant or unpleasant, our breathing automatically changes. It just does. We can start to notice that. And we can turn that around and learn to take charge of our breathing to shift our emotional states. We can shift our physical health through breath too.
So there is a lot to share about breathing.
Here’s the first installment:
Learning to breathe. Really. Did you know that 80% of our lung capacity is in the lower roughly 2/3 of the lungs? That’s below the breast line. So many people I work with breathe only into the top part of the chest. The shoulders and chest lift and contract, the belly contracts. That’s like filling a glass with water and trying to keep the water at the top of the glass. That is shallow chest breathing and, not only does it indicate stress in the body, it actually creates more. It activates the sympathetic nervous system and the fight/flight response, which shuts down the frontal lobe (for rational decision making) and sends a rush of cortisol into the body. Plus, you don’t get much breath in there.
Stop now and take a relaxed, normal breath and notice where you feel it in your body. Your belly, your side ribs, back shoulders, chest? Ideally when you inhale your side ribs should expand outward, indicating that the lungs are actually filling with air. You should also feel it expanding your ribs in the back. This actually feels really good as it stretches out those tight back muscles from the inside. Try it!
Notice when you fill the bottom of the lungs, that the upper chest and shoulders don’t move much. They don’t have to. You may notice that the shoulders actually get to relax and let go—what a concept. You may also notice a relaxed feeling in your head! There’s a good reason for that—which I’ll talk about next time.
If you’re not used to breathing this way you may have to practice. The next time you inhale, consciously send the breath down to your side ribs and back, letting the lungs fill up from bottom to top, and then let the breath sigh out gently, feeling the lungs deflate from top to bottom. Keep practicing—close your eyes and just feel where the breath wants to go in the body. You actually do breathe this way when you sleep, so your body knows how to do this, once your stressed out brain gets out of the way!!
So what does this kind of full chest breathing do for us? A whole lot. First of all, whenever we inhale the sympathetic nervous system is activated. That’s like the gas pedal in the car. When we exhale the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in—that’s the brakes. So, conscious, deep, slow, circular, low lung, diaphragmatic breathing actually balances the brain and nervous system. Let yourself feel the calming relief of the long, slow, gentle exhale. (As a reminder which system is which—Sympathetic=Stress, Parasympathetic = Peace)
Practice this kind of breathing as a gift to yourself. Let it be gentle, even in its fullness. Don’t force yourself to breath too deeply. Let the power of the breath gently, yet firmly open you, soothe you, heal you.
We all live in some degree of fight/flight/freeze activation. Just the pressure of living in the 21st century assures that. It has become our normal. Learning to harness the breath and consciously using it to balance out our brain and nervous system will automatically bring us improved health and well-being.
Stay tuned to future articles for even more—like using breath to activate and balance the longest nerve in the body, improve heart function, decrease brain fog and inflammation, improve cognition and memory. To say nothing of both your spiritual life and your sex life! How about that!
Till next time—Blessings, and Don’t forget to Breathe!