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.
- Exhale fully, gently contracting your stomach to empty the
lower part of your lungs.
- Begin to slowly inhale through you nose by gently pushing
your belly out and filling the lower lungs...
- Inhale further, by allowing your chest to expand...
- Inhale a little more by raising your shoulders a little to
fill the upper lungs.
- Gently hold onto the breath for a moment without strain...
- 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
- 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
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,
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.
Copyright © 2002 Phoenix Life-Coaching.
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M.S. Word version of this article
Stephen Renfrey, Ph.D
Words of Wisdom:
"Discover Yourself: 'Wanting to reform the world without discovering one's true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.'”