11/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How to Breathe Better at a Mile High

How lucky are you? Living in the Rockies means you get
great weather and the lifestyle that goes with it. But living at a higher
altitude also means adapting your cooking methods as water boils at a lower
temperature, such as a four minute egg and not a three minute one (will someone please
invent a four minute egg timer?), drinking tons more water, and breathing less

Many people come from all over the United States to ski, mountain
climb and cycle. But if you have ever seen a Bronco game you may have seen an
opponent wearing an oxygen mask. Normally, we take breathing for granted as it
just happens without our trying, just like we don't have to think about walking
before we take a step. Until there isn't enough oxygen to go around. We have
worked with footballers in England and members of the U.S. Ski Team and Ski
Patrol in Colorado to breathe, relax, and focus their minds.

Stress and worry compromise our breathing considerably,
so combined with the altitude, it can make getting enough oxygen quite
challenging. Most people have shallow breathing, but rather than getting dizzy,
you can learn how to breathe more efficiently. By making friends with your
breath you become more at ease and stress free and you can think more clearly.
That may sound hard to believe but it’s true.

Take a moment to sit
quietly and observe your breathing. Sit upright in a straight-backed chair,
feet flat on the floor. Watch your breath as it enters and leaves. Become aware
of where your breath is located when it enters your body. Is it just your upper
chest that rises and falls? Does your lower chest also move? Does your belly
rise and fall at all? Try putting one hand on your chest and one on your belly
so you can feel any movement.

Now try just breathing into the top
part of your chest, and take a few breaths this way. Then, with each in breath,
bring the breath all the way into your belly. To do this, first exhale
completely, blowing it out through your mouth, then let the incoming breath
fill your belly. Continue breathing in and out of the belly through the nose.
The diaphragm is a strong muscle membrane that separates the lungs from the
abdominal organs and the lower it moves during inhalation, the more air is
inhaled into the lungs, which means the greater our intake of oxygen and the
more calming an effect. Exhale deeply and feel your hand move down as the
abdomen contracts. Take a few breaths. Notice any difference? Notice any stress
or tension leaving as you breathe more deeply?

Remember the phrase soft
repeat it to yourself whenever you need to: you can't get tense or nervous if
you have a soft belly, so as soon as you repeat those words you will remember
to relax and breathe. And you cannot breathe fully without a relaxed belly. Soft belly, soft belly, soft belly. (No
vain holding in of the belly allowed here!) Do this any time, anywhere. Eyes
open or eyes closed. Sitting on the train feeling tired and stressed -- soft
belly and breathe. Standing at the sink surrounded by dirty dishes and a
screaming baby -- soft belly and breathe. Going into an important meeting --
soft belly and breathe. The telephone ringing or stuck in traffic -- soft belly
and breathe. This will enable you to maintain your calm composure and to be
relaxed, without the stress building up inside.

Just as stress affects your breathing, so rapid
breathing creates more agitation in your mind. Learning how to belly breathe in this way will
instantly help you to release stress and relax your whole body, as well as
get more oxygen flowing, which gives you a great way to
function at a higher altitude.

Do you have any mile-high breathing stories? Do comment

You can read more on this in our upcoming book: Be the Change, How Meditation Can Transform You
and the World
. And you can pre-order the book here.  Join Ed and Deb at the Boulder Bookstore on Nov 3 for a special booksigning with contributors Joan Borysenko, Steve Demos and Mark Gerzon.