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Breath

Breath

Breathe. 

(No, don’t just read it: really take a breath now.)

Notice the difference between the breath you take when you think about it and the breath you take when you don’t.

(By the way, you might also want to notice that your body breathes pretty well all by itself, adapting to differences like stress, physical demands or sleep without even a conscious thought on your part.)

Back to that breath….

Was it full? Satisfying? Shallow? Hot? Cool? Did it make a sound? How would you describe it (to yourself)?

A friend of mine who wants to give up smoking thinks that, in addition to a nicotine hit, part of a smoker’s fix is the long, slow breath. It takes a long, slow breath to fill your lungs. Try it.

Diaphragmatic Breath

Now, try breathing like this:

  1. Lie on your back on the floor (or other HARD surface — not in bed)
  2. Place a heavy book on your stomach, right over your belly button
  3. Inhale slowly so that your breath causes the book to rise and fall
  4. Once you get the book to rise as far as you can, hold it steadily there and fill your lower and upper chest. When you have done that, you have enjoyed a full inhalation. 
This kind of breathing fully utilizes your diaphragm, and it’s how athletes, singers and horn, woodwind and didgeridoo players breathe. I was taught this technique by retired Commander Melio Mayo who led Navy brass bands during World War II — one of his great trumpet players was Harry James. You can teach yourself more about diaphragmatic breathing on this YouTube video.
(There’s also a technique of “circular breathing” where you can inhale and exhale simultaneously — watch the San Diego Didgeridoo Guy in the link above to see circular breathing in action, or take a lesson from Kenny G here.)
But back to that breath….
If you tried the diaphragmatic breathing 4-step method above for the very first time, I want you to notice the effort it took. Do you know you can make such a breath habitual? With some practice — that is, making your diaphragmatic breath conscious as you breathe — you will find that you can enjoy a fuller, deeper breath more often than not.
Why would you want to do that? Glad you asked, since that’s the point of this blog.
Breath — a full, sustaining breath — is critical 
to a full and rewarding experience of life.
  • Shorten your breath, shorten just about everything related to life.
  • Lengthen your breath, lengthen just about everything related to life.
I’m not a clinician, but as a layman I’ve taken advantage of a lot of clinical research on the breath, as well as centuries of “anecdotal” evidence that exists in traditions and occupations that rely on breath: yoga, meditation, playing the French horn, clarinet and sax, running, playing soccer and mountain biking. I’ve also been privileged to have had care from practitioners who incorporate “breath work” in treatment. I’d like to share just one technique with you that will help you regulate the flow of your full, sustaining breath in a way that yogis claim also promotes longevity and can keep you antioxidant- (and disease-) free.

The Ujjayi Breath

Pronounced, OO-gye-EE, this breath is also known as “throat breathing” because when you inhale, the air makes a gentle roaring sound toward the back of your throat. You can do this by gently narrowing the throat as you inhale through your nose with your mouth closed. When you feel your lungs are full, exhale through your mouth with the same sound. (A decent example — from a yogi — is on YouTube here. I promise you you will feel better than the two women in the video look!)
You now have two simple tools for mindful breathing, and you can be confident that they are powerful. 

Why should I become conscious of the power of my own breath?

Mindful breathing is mindful living. Researchers at Institute of Heart Math and elsewhere are documenting the health-giving power that comes from becoming closely attuned to our “autonomic” nervous system, particularly the central bundle of nerves that connect the brain, heart, lungs, digestive and reproductive systems: the vagas nerve. Here are a couple of examples:
How?
Breathe. Mindfully. Single biggest way. There are others of course, but let’s stick with the breath for now.
Training yourself to breathe — in whatever the best way is for you — is an exercise in living. Your mindful experience of your own breath brings you “back” to a mindful experience of life. Once mindful breathing becomes a habit, you have chosen to enhance in your life far beyond what you experience now.
Try it.
You may feel better or more alive. You may find, with practice, that you are able to attain a satisfying “altered state” at will…simply through your breath. You will probably initially get pretty winded! It’s OK; keep after it, being gentle in your practice, and stay persistent. Take a few gentle deep breaths when you wake in the morning to remind yourself of your practice. Don’t worry if you aren’t taking every breath diaphragmatically. Over time, your mindful practice will become habitual.
Even one deep breath each day is worth it. Once you’ve mastered a single breath, try for two. Then three. You can do this — your body is designed to do this! Enjoy it.

Breathe.

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