Breathing: A gateway to health

Breathing is the essence of life, but how much do we really know about the quality of our own breathing, the best way to breathe, and what exactly it does for the body?

For a long time, these essential questions have been asked and studied by a variety of people from many schools of thought – from spiritual practitioners, to emotional and physical therapists, and even scientists. Breathing properly can help us increase immunity, improve overall health, and massage and promote healthy organs. Breathing brings oxygen to the brain and all other parts of the body. It is the essential life force that helps us be in touch with our body fully. It connects us to our emotions. It helps us with posture and how we hold ourselves in relation to others and our world. It can help us calm, prevent, or treat anxiety, panic, and panic attacks. It treats fatigue and helps us become more resilient. We feel energized from good breathing.

Learning to breathe well is an easy and valuable introduction to healthy, mindful living.

Take a minute to notice your breath right now.

Hold one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.  Breathe naturally for a few rounds. Which hand is moving when you breathe? If the hand on your chest is the only hand moving, then your breaths are too shallow and may be causing unwanted problems for you. Primarily you will not get enough oxygen into your system and that will stress your body and mind.

If you are feeling both hands moving when you breathe, congratulations! You are already using your breath to help you live a healthy balanced life.

For greater awareness of your breath and how it could work for you in your life, try some of these simple exercises:

Notice the quality of your breath

  1. Begin by noticing how you are feeling in this moment. What you are focused on? What has been important to you in the past few hours? To raise your awareness, you can even rate your stress level on a scale of one to ten.
  2. Stand comfortably or sit forward on a chair or stool so your spine is not leaning on the back of anything. Let your spine be straight but relaxed and the front of your body soft and open.
  3. Now, put both of your hands on the sides of your body over your rib cage.
  4. Take a nice big but relaxed breath in pushing your hands outward with your breath. As you breathe out, lengthen your spine just a little bit.
  5. Breathe in again, pushing the hands outward with the breath. Reach your breath down and out, aiming for it to fill you belly and down to your tail bone. It might feel like a nice internal stretch.
  6. Relax and let the breath out at your own pace. Let the spine stretch just a tiny bit longer.
  7. Continue slowly for 10 relaxed breaths, each time noticing the breath reaching deeper into more of your body.
  8. Finish by tuning in to your body and mind at the conclusion of this exercise. If you rated your stress level at the start, has anything changed? What are you focused on now?

Use breath to calm your body with “Square Breathing”

Now that you know how to make a deep breath, consider bringing that into the following rotation of breathing. This exercise has been taught by many sources and is sometimes referred to as “Square Breathing” or “Box Breathing”. The benefits of “Square Breathing” are that it can help regulate your mind and body, it can calm you very quickly if you are upset, and it can help you focus if you are feeling anxious.

  1. Start by bringing a deep breath into your lungs and diaphragm, as deep as you can feel it in the body. Don’t worry if you cannot get the breath deep at first — this will change over time and even by the time you finish the exercise. Count to 4 as you are taking in the breath.
  2. Now hold that breath for the count of 4.
  3. Now release that breath for the count of 4.
  4. This is my favorite part: just be or relax for a count of 4.
  5. Repeat this rotation several times

If you like these exercises you can explore breath work more fully and begin to use it daily as one of your many resilience strategies.

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