Breath is the most important function of our body – it gives life. Without breath, we could not survive, even for more than a minute, whilst without food and water we can go on for a while. Yet we forget about our breath constantly.
Breath represents a link between your body and mind
Your breath does not only support your body with oxygen but also affects your heart, entire lungs, as well as molecular processes which produce and maintain body energy. Although many of you have never noticed, you do not breathe through both nostrils simultaneously. Your breath interchanges between your left and right nostril about every two hours. When this interchange does not occur, dis-balances, illness or disturbances of the mind occur. This is why there are so many breathing exercises focusing on bringing your breathing pattern back to balance.
Quality of breath reveals the quality of the mind
The way you breathe tells a lot about your emotions, mind and functioning of your body. When you are stressed, your breath becomes short and shallow. The increased stress, as well as a very active mind, result in more tension in your muscles as each thought reflects itself through the tensing and relaxing of your muscles. The tension in the muscles prevents oxygen from flowing to different parts of the body. If the stress continues for a long time, then the body slowly starts falling out of balance, becoming stiffer, immunity drops and you get more and more sick or experience pain.
It is thus of utmost importance to pay attention and awareness to your breath. Similar as when you misuse the balance of your feet you fall and injure yourself; when you forget about your breath a dis-balance in a form of a confused mind will occur. Being conscious about your breath and actions represents the first step on the way to healing. Namely, when you consciously pay attention to your breath your mind strengthens and is able to focus better. You become more aware of reality and can easier deal with the changes and challenges of everyday life.
Build sound and strong foundations first
It is recommended to practice advanced techniques of breathing and meditation only after one has learned to regulate the motion of the lungs and the rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing becomes completely integrated, resulting in the balance of body and mind. Advanced breathing techniques resulting from modifying breathing patterns in order to consequently still down the mind can be quite harmful when not practised properly and without proper supervision.
It happened to me, that after 5 years of practising an intense breathing technique under the supervision of a renounced spiritual master, I started noticing an increased discomfort in my body as well as in my mind. Just a simple test showed that after five years of daily practice my breath had actually shortened. At least it was shorter than what was normal for an experienced meditator. Further research showed that the manipulation of breath, which my practice had stimulated, resulted in my breathing patterns becoming increasingly jerky. Consequently, my muscles tensed more.
Let this example serve as a practical reminder that advanced breathing techniques as given and taught by many yoga schools nowadays could eventually be harmful if you are not ready for them or engage in a practice that is not compatible with your body. It is thus important to make sure you learn from a person you completely trust and who is close to you, so they can correct you and suggest adjustments in case needed. Any kind of forceful breath regulations or holding the breath are not advised to be practised until your mind is completely balanced. Holding breath during meditation aggravates whatever dis-balance of the mind you have and can lead to a very disturbed mind.
Practical Tips for Conscious Breath
1. Check your breathing conditions
Begin with checking the conditions of your breath at the moment. This you can do by counting how many inhalations and exhalations you have in one minute. As an orientation, experienced yogis inhale and exhale once every minute or two, which reflects the state of their mind. Yet for us, normal people it is OK to have between 15 and 19 breaths in a minute, and for experienced meditators under 10. Developing long deep breathing with equally long inhalations and exhalations is a long process, so please be patient.
2. Get in touch with diaphragmatic breathing
In order to be able to function in a relaxed and harmonious way, best-suited practice is to connect and develop a conscious awareness of your diaphragmatic breathing. When using such breath, you can reduce several abnormalities, especially hypertension as well as anxiety and stress symptoms.
Here is a very simple practice which can cause no harm to anyone, yet it shows great results. After my knee injury, I stayed in this posture breathing with my belly up to 2 hours daily. Miraculously, after a month my knees were healed. It is one of the best techniques to calm your mind and to connect to your natural belly breath without controlling or forcing it.
- Lie on your belly with your face down.
- Spread extended legs about shoulder-width apart.
- Rotate your toes outwards and heels turned in. If it feels more comfortable it is also possible to turn your toes inwards and heels outwards.
- Fold your hands and take hold of your elbows with opposite arms.
- Draw the elbows in towards the chest, so that the shoulders and upper chest remain slightly off the floor.
- Bow your head and rest your forehead on the forearms.
- Your abdomen rests completely on the floor, the upper chest is slightly elevated, whereas the weight of the upper torso rests on the abdomen.
Close your eyes, and follow the movement of your abdomen. If thoughts come, just turn your attention back to observing your breath. Eventually, you can travel through your body relaxing each part of your body – face, shoulders, abdomen, pelvis, legs, feet. Stay in the posture for at least 5 to 10 minutes each morning and evening for at least a month. If you wish you can stay in this posture for up to 2 hours or repeat it up to 10 times per day. It has been said that if you practice rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing for ten times a day for at least two months, with gradual and equal prolongation of inhalation and exhalation, you will experience a sense of deep relaxation in your body and mind. You will also be able to observe your voice going sweeter and a soft glow on your face.
Feel free to use a cushion under your upper chest, allowing your chest to rest on it just in case you experience any discomfort or you can also adjust yourself whilst in the position.
By reconnecting to your breath this will consequently calm your mind, you will experience more happiness and relaxation in your life. If in any case, you feel unsure about any technique you practice, please do contact an experienced teacher to explain the technique to you in person.