Ready, Get Set … Breathe!
Feeling tense? I hold my breath, and… —
When facing multiple deadlines, I tend to tense up: my jaw tightens, my shoulders do the same, and I subconsciously hold my breath. Also, my thoughts start racing and I feel the pressure of doing more in a shorter amount of time. I wonder how many share this experience of mine? And I wonder how has been induced by ‘the way things are done’? That ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’? That achievement and accomplishment are paramount, and one needs never to give up, but try harder? Until burnout, perhaps.
So, as of late, I am learning that the counter-intuitive thing to do is to … stop and breathe in and out, and in and out more, until one lets go of the tension, the reeling thoughts, the holding on, thus allowing for something new to emerge.
Listening to the Sages
The study of breathing as a mindful practice is not new. Through her work, psychotherapist and facilitator Venita Ramirez has studied several expounders of breathing as a practice. From the world of medicine, to the wisdom traditions, she mentions Wilhelm Reich’s Reichian Breathing, Alexander Lowen’s Bioenergetics, and Stan Grof’s Holotropic breathwork. She also cites scientific research produced by the Institute of Heartmath.
As breathing advocate Leonard Orr says, breathing goes beyond the mechanical inhaling and exhaling of air. He says:
“The purpose of conscious breathing is not primarily the movement of air,
but the movement of energy.
If you do a relaxed, connected breathing cycle for a few minutes,
you will begin to experience dynamic energy flows within your body.”
Let’s not forget how eastern practices such as Yoga and Chi Kung stress the importance of deep, healing breathing. So do several religious traditions, which teach changing, singing and dancing, where the body is liberated to breathe fully and access higher states of consciousness.
In the sports too, we are encouraged to practice aerobic exercises because they enable the lungs to take in oxygen (and energy) more powerfully, and get rid of toxins and carbon dioxide, thus helping us to concentrate more and be healthier too. This advice is given in hospital wards too. Indeed, how much more painful would childbirth be if us women didn’t learn to breathe in a particular way when the contractions come?
Holding One’s Breath as Self Defense?
In my own exploration of the practice of breathing, what has surprised me the most has been in noticing that, through my life, I have created habitual patterns of muscle tension and constricted breathing as a mechanism push away strong feelings that maybe were locked in part of my body: my back, neck or in the stomach area. This may have created a ‘character armor’, as Wilhelm Reich describes it. When one creates this ‘character armor’, one becomes less open to experiences (positive and less positive) arising moment to moment.
Through conscious, deep breathing, we can unlearn this and open up again to savouring any moment the way it is, thus relaxing more.
Where Do We Start?
So we can keep it simple. Just by thinking of the word ‘breathe’, our attention moves to our breath, and away from the mind. Regardless of what is happening, let’s take a deep breath and notice our thoughts pause, and then slow down. We can count ‘4’ when breathing, and take a little longer to breathe out, by counting to ‘6’. As we do this, if we feel any tension in any part of the body, let’s breathe into it.
Let’s do this a few times, until we feel that our thoughts are slowing down, we feel a sense of lightness, and a feeling of aliveness.
As we keep on breathing, what do we notice? As we take another deep breath, let’s experiment with channeling clean, white air into our lungs as if we were breathing in pure energy. And after we have breathed this in our lungs, we can breathe it back into the environment around us. What do we notice when we do this? Perhaps the boundaries between ourselves and others relax, and the boundaries of our mind become more flexible and supple.
Let’s start this practice, a few seconds a day, or a few moments during the day, and notice what impact this has on our week.
This is an invitation to notice what changes a few moments of deep breathing can bring in our lives, and in our awareness of what is around us: the vibrant colours, the new sensations, the beauty of the people we see, the meaningful interactions, and what is really important in life. All this, through our new way of noticing and our more thoughtful, gentler responses.
*Special thanks to Venita Ramirez and Geoff Fitch of Pacific Integral, for all you teach about the beauty and value of deep, conscious breathing.
Image from: ‘Our Beautiful World and Universe.’