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The Breath of Life - The Breath of Serenity

To breathe is to live. We can survive for days without water and weeks without food, but we can only survive for a few moments without air. Breathing is so central to our survival, that our whole being is intimately linked to it. When we become physically tense or distressed, or when we experience certain emotions, such as fright or anxiety, our breathing becomes shallow and irregular.

When we are safe and restful, when we feel at peace, our breathing becomes slow, deep, and regular. What many people do not realize is that this relationship between breathing and our physical / emotional states works in both directions. We can induce greater physical and emotional relaxation by controlling our breathing, by making it slow, deep, and regular.

Try the following exercises. Begin with "The Full Breath" and after you’re comfortable with that, you can try the other variations. It is best to choose a quiet, comfortable place to practice where you will not be interrupted. A place you associate with relaxation would be ideal, but it can be just about anywhere. Wear lose fitting clothing and sit in a comfortable position.

I recommend practicing twice a day for about 10 to 15 minutes at a time. After about a week of practice, you should notice a greater ability to relax at will. You may notice a greater degree of overall calm throughout your day.

The Full Breath - This is the fundamental breath common to all breathing exercises.

  1. Exhale fully, gently contracting your stomach to empty the lower part of your lungs.
  2. Begin to slowly inhale through you nose by gently pushing your belly out and filling the lower lungs...
  3. Inhale further, by allowing your chest to expand...
  4. Inhale a little more by raising your shoulders a little to fill the upper lungs.
  5. Gently hold onto the breath for a moment without strain...
  6. Release your breath through your mouth in reverse order of the inhalation, allowing your shoulders to drop, your chest to fall, and finally tightening your abdomen to empty the lower lungs.
  7. Repeat slowly and rhythmically, taking 5-10 seconds to inhale, holding for 2-3 seconds, and breathing out for about 5-10 seconds.

The Four Count - Practice deep breathing as outlined above, but count with each full inhalation. Count from 1 to 4 and then reverse it to 1 etc. (i.e., 1-2-3-4-3-2-1-2-3-4 and so on). This is a simple way to distract the mind from extraneous thinking.

The Mantra - Deep breath as above, but with each exhalation, hum softly or repeat a phrase or word that is relaxing for you (e.g., Sof...tly, Gen...tle, Lo...ve).

Ujjayi Awareness - This is a hybrid of several approaches that I find particularly effective and pleasant when my mind wants to run amok. It is particularly pleasant when done in a natural setting or other places of beauty. It is based on Ujjayi (oo-j-eye) Breathing of the yogic tradition and mindful awareness.

To do Ujjayi breathing take in a breath and whisper aloud “this is Ujjayi.” The slight contraction of the throat needed to whisper is how you produce Ujjayi breathing. Now try using the Full Breath with this throat contraction so that you feel and hear a whispering sound on both inhalation and exhalation. The contraction should be slight and the sound soft. There should be little resistance to the breath.

Now, allow yourself to fall into a natural rhythm of Ujjayi breathing. You can close your eyes, open them slightly and establish a soft focus on the ground in front of you or on some object of interest. You can also open your eyes fully and look around you, drinking in all that you see, being aware of all that you feel, smell, hear, and sense. While you are feasting on your senses, keep your thoughts silent by remaining aware of the meditative sound of Ujjayi. If thoughts intrude on your peace of mind, simply return your awareness gently to your Ujjayi breathing.

Mindfulness - Perhaps the most elegant of all approaches is mindfulness. For this variation, begin with the Full Breath as above and focus on the sensations of your breathing.

Focus on how your lungs, abdomen, and chest feel. How does the air feel as it passes through your nose? Are you aware of any tension in your body as you focus on your breathing? Let it go. Find an aspect of your breathing that is easy for you to remain attentive to and allow your focus to rest there.

Permit your breathing to slip into a natural rhythm. Continue with a gentle focus on your breathing, allowing it to flow on its own without any effort to control it. If distracted, gently return your attention back to the breath. If thoughts intrude into your mindful awareness, simply return to this focus. The only expectation you should have of yourself and of your practice is that you spend time in this simple awareness.

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G. Stephen Renfrey, Ph.D

 

Words of Wisdom:

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on“ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
-Calvin Coolidge

 

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