Image: freedigitalphotos.net Breathe in and breathe out.
Our breathing is completely essential to our survival, yet it's rare for us to even think about it - let alone focus on it. A few years ago I was at a meeting where we were asked to count the number of breaths we take in a minute. We weren't supposed to change it in any way, only to count the breaths. I was so shocked to find that I was over breathing within a minute by quite a lot. This meant that I was always stirred up, and it was making my heart beat faster. It was a huge indicator of my stress levels.
The extra breathing caused by anxiety and stress is like your body overcompensating to get more air. Like as if we're running a marathon. I was amazed to find out that we can manipulate, change and focus on our breathing to benefit our health and well being. There are so many things we can do with our breath.
Have you ever tried to calm your thoughts by simply focusing on your breathing? Perhaps not, yet you can learn and train yourself to do it. It has so many health benefits that I couldn't possibly list them all. It really goes to show how powerful the breath is.
The thing about our breath is that no matter where we go, it is always with us. We don't have to carry it or hold, and we can work on our breathing anywhere and at anytime.
By learning to focus on your breathing and concentrating fully on the rise and fall of your stomach, you can shut down unwanted, negative or stress provoking thoughts. This is a type of relaxation, meditation and mindfulness.
We can control our breathing by counting it in and out to a certain number. Choosing a number to breathe out on can make you control the length of your breath, and the gap between each breath. Sometimes slowing our breathing down can instantly calm us; it can also clear our thoughts, and make room for planning our next move. It can dissipate anger, and give us more of a chance to consider our options before reacting.
You can also add a word as you breathe out. Try "relax,""calm" or "peace." You will find out which word works for you. Breathe faster, and notice how you feel in that exact moment. After doing the latter, breathe slower and close your eyes. Notice your feelings...
Do you feel better or worse? Are you calmer and more relaxed?
As you hold your breath, notice the tightening of your chest. How does it feel? Now release it. Notice how it feels now? Watch the rising and falling of your stomach. Put a book or pamphlet on it to make sure you're doing it right. Watch how the book or pamphlet moves. You can also put your hands on your stomach, with the fingers from one hand just slightly touching the finger tips of your other hand. As you breathe in, both of your hands should touch at the fingertips. As you breathe out, they should stretch apart, so that the fingertips cannot touch.
If you decide to learn more about controlling your breathing, you need to start out slow. Try sitting in a quiet and comfortable place. A place you like. Come to a place that helps creates a sense of peace. Turn off and hide away any distractions like phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions to name. Pick your time wisely, so there is less chance you'll get distracted. Perhaps put on some soft music or nature sounds. Set a timer for between five to ten minutes. Close your eyes, and try to only focus on your breath. Just focus on breathing in and out, in and out. Take long deep breaths in and slow, and long breaths out. Don't rush it, nor try to slow it at this point. Just notice it, and focus on its normal flow/rhythm.
Once you're ready to progress to the next stage, perhaps increase the time you spend on focusing on your breathing. Can you do 10 minutes now? What about 15 minutes? Like so many other things, the more you do it - the better at it you will become. Practice makes perfect. Try doing breathing exercises when you first wake up in the morning, and just before you go to sleep at night. Persistence is the key.
Author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle said in an interview: "if you are really focussing on your breath, you will not be able to think about anything else."
Try focussing on your breath next time you are on public transport; in a lift; waiting in a queue; going to the bathroom while having a shower, or while you're waiting at the traffic lights. Please do not close your eyes if you are driving any type of machinery though. I do not condone that.
Here is a clip to watch of Michelle Branches song, 'Breathe'. It shows the lyrics for you to follow. I hope you enjoy it.
See Part 2 of my article, 'Just Breathe' - where I will explore the different types of breathing exercises, so you can find out which one suits you. I will also be writing Part 3 of 'Just Breathe.' This will have reviews of some of the masters of breathing exercises, together with some great apps to use to enhance your breathing exercise experience.
No matter what is happening in your life right now, just breathe. You will cope. Just breathe.