The Power of Breath
When asked about the single most important aspect of health a person could focus on, the Harvard M.D., Dr. Andrew Weil, responded without hesitation as he said “breathing.” Here is the director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, where physicians are trained in both traditional Western allopathic medicine and a variety of alternative holistic therapies, choosing breath over exercise, diet, supplementation, sleep and a host of other possibly answers. Why? Consider this. We can live without food for months. I personally have undergone fasts of 40 days without eating. Without water you can survive 3 to 10 days. Without air? Three minutes! That should underscore simply and dramatically the importance of breath.
Over the years I have devoted a lot of research and practice to breathing techniques. Breath can be used to calm the mind, improve sleep, relax muscles and reduce anxiety. Certain techniques put the nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous response, and everything physiologically goes into relax mode: the heart slows down, blood pressure drops, the endocrine system produces “feel-good” hormones like endorphins. Other practices can energize the body. Here below are 3 simple techniques that have a variety of benefits.
This breath, described by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, is one of my favorite breaths to use as a meditation technique.
“There are a number of breathing techniques you can use to make life vivid and more
enjoyable. The first exercise is very simple. As you breathe in, you say to yourself,
‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.’ And as you breathe out, say, ‘Breathing out,
I know that I am breathing out.’ Just that. You recognize your in-breath as an in-breath
and your out-breath as an out-breath. You don't even need to recite the whole sentence;
you can use just two words: "In" and "Out." This technique can help you keep your mind
on your breath. As you practice, your breath will become peaceful and gentle, and your
mind and body will also become peaceful and gentle. This is not a difficult exercise. In
just a few minutes you can realize the fruit of meditation.
Breathing in and out is very important, and it is enjoyable. Our breathing is the link
between our body and our mind. Sometimes our mind is thinking of one thing and our
body is doing another, and mind and body are not unified. By concentrating on our
breathing, ‘In’ and ‘Out,’ we bring body and mind back together and become whole
again. Conscious breathing is an important bridge.
To me, breathing is a joy that I cannot miss. Every day, I practice conscious breathing,
and, in my small meditation room, I have calligraphed this sentence: ‘Breathe, you are
alive!’ Just breathing and smiling can make us very happy, because when we breathe
consciously we recover ourselves completely and encounter life in the present moment.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh,
Peace Is Every Step
I came across this technique in the 1970’s and used it to cure myself of migraine headaches. It is simple and powerful. It is also a great aid for sleep.
Begin with whatever style of deep breathing comes naturally to you. Pay attention to your average inhalation. How many counts does it last? Do not strain to get a big number, just notice and remember the number. The speed at which you count doesn’t master either, as long as you keep the tempo consistent throughout this breath exercise. When you have a number for the average inhale, add 2-3 and that will be your exhale. Now take about ¼ of the in breath (2 for example if inhale was 8) and that is the count you will hold both after inhalation and after exhalation. So in our example of an inhalation of 8 the healing breath cycle would look like this: inhale for 8, hold full for 2, exhale 10, hold empty 2.
The key to this breath is to keep it fluid and connected without any strain. So the count of 2 when full of breath is like a gentle “turning around the corner” to the exhalation. Similarly, when you are empty and holding for 2 it is part of the greater movement of your breath from out back again to breathing in.
This breath will relax you and promotes healing on all levels. I have used it effectively for severe headaches and have taught it to many of my clients.
If feeling fatigued or in need of a burst of energy or clarity of thinking, this next breathing exercise can revitalize and clear the mind.
Sit on the edge of the seat with the back straight, and take two full breaths in through
the nose, exhaling through the mouth. Completely exhale each time. Upon taking the
third breath, exhale a little more than half of it, close the mouth and begin to “flutter” the diaphragm, moving air quickly in a panting fashion through the nose. Be sure not to do this through the mouth, as the throat will dry out quickly. Do this for as long as you can, and. when ready, take a deep breath through the nose and slowly exhale it through the mouth. Close the eyes and sit in the reverie and newly found energy. Repeat as many times as desired.