21 Jun The power of conscious breathing
Our breath is life. The art of breathing correctly, as well as the quality and quantity of what we inspire is directly related to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Our experience of life can be a deeply inspired one or fraught with struggle and suffering.
A couple of decades ago, my life was a constantly traumatic experience. I maintained a particular story about myself, a story of negation, abuse and self-abuse, of betrayal, loss and unworthiness. I believed that this was who I was and this was what I deserved.
In retrospect I see that I had been living in anxiety and chronic depression. At the time I simply struggled to make it through each day, one day at a time. I had learned very young to develop a mask that helped me navigate the world. A smiling face that hid the depth of sorrow and fear that haunted me. My mask served me well until it began to crack.
Somehow I stumbled on a healing path of sorts, but none of the spiritual tools I had thus far gathered had helped me rise out of the misery I experienced day after day. I created and re-created the same day over and again by maintaining the same thought patterns and activities. Although I had choices, I could not for the life of me see them. I gave all my attention to the debilitating thoughts that kept that terrible old story going.
One day, all those years ago, an acquaintance mentioned a Sunday afternoon radio talk show that was worth listening to. Not one to listen to the radio, ever, this time I tuned in. The host had just introduced a guest speaker who waxed lyrical about the power of the breath to bring about a positive transformation to one’s mental, emotional and physical state. Towards the end of his talk, he offered a breathing exercise to his listeners, encouraging us to participate.
With nothing to lose and a desperate yearning for change, I followed his instructions. I observed an immediate and noticeable shift within. I felt both calmer and a little easier in myself. So I repeated the exercise an hour later. Then again before I went to bed. Soon I found myself doing the practice many times a day, for each time I did, I felt lighter. My mind began to slow down, my thoughts were less tortured, I began to feel stronger, had more energy and was in greater control of both my mind and my emotions.
As I continued to practice this particular conscious breathing technique, I began to make better choices. My life changed. Completely.
Having changed the direction of my life, and having created a more positive story to live by, I forgot how powerful that period was, and how life-saving conscious breathing was for me. From time to time I would practice one form or other of pranayama (control of breath or intentional breathing) and enjoy the benefits and then would invariably let it fall away.
A wonderful awakening experience just a few years ago resulted in a permanent shift in consciousness that to my great joy continues to flower and deepen today. I no longer live as a story but allow that which I am, to create, experience and enjoy. There is little or no struggle and life has become effortless and peaceful.
Towards the end of last year, I was invited by the college I work at to be one of their founding wellness officers and I was asked to run some meditation classes and mindfulness workshops. They wanted me give the students some strategies and tools to help cope with anxiety and stress. One of the workshops was to focus on breathing.
Wonderful! I was absolutely delighted and went back over all my past notes, researched pranayama more deeply and spent the next few months consistently practicing a variety of breathing techniques so I could testify as to the effectiveness of what I wanted to teach.
I rediscovered the powerful results that ensue from conscious breathing and continue to practice a series of exercises daily. As a result, I feel invigorated, uplifted, relaxed, and full of enthusiasm and joy. My physical health has improved and all I need do is breathe – consciously. How absolutely simple.
It seems to me that the most effective way to breathe is by taking long slow streams of breath and exhaling in the same way, releasing the breath in a gradual steady stream. Consciously and intentionally breathing in fresh air, fresh energy and exhaling all that is stale within ourselves. As we breathe in this way, we begin to create a space within. As that spaciousness increases, we are able to access and experience the silent stillness at the heart of us. That deep inherent natural silence within is the source of life itself, and our awareness of this results in a effortless dismantling of the illusions we bought into that created our suffering. We begin to die to the beliefs that kept our perceptions limited and our lives restricted and unfulfilled.
As we seek to experience more of the silence within, we will find ourselves opening to each moment like a flower to the sun, joyfully embracing the exquisite richness of the present moment. When we awaken, we no longer live in attachment and reaction to the external world, rather, we use it as a mirror to reveal to us where we are still invested in the stories of the past. As we liberate ourselves into the present moment, every breath becomes a celebration of life.
I wish to share with you that very first breathing exercise that helped me change my life so many years ago.
It is called the 4:7:8 breath and is also known as the Relaxing Breath.
I offer it to you now and encourage you to practice it many times a day. The benefits of just this one exercise will be well worth the small amount of time you invest in it.
4-7-8 Relaxing Breath
Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. Exhale completely through your mouth.
- Close your mouth and inhale slowly and steadily through your nose to a mental count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8.
This is one breath cycle.
Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of 4 cycles keeping the rhythm even and steady throughout the exercise.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.
This is a useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise can benefit everyone.
Posted by Sa Silvano on 21st June 2018
Photo – My very favourite breathing place – picture taken by Claudio Silvano