What's your relationship like to your breath? Do you have one?
There are days that go by when I think I take about two full breaths. Sound familiar? I have a magnet on my vision board that reminds me to breathe, and a huge "Inhale, Exhale" card obviously doing the same. But it's still not enough. I mean, how many reminders do we need?
We're basically lazy when it comes to breathing, don't you think? We are so used to the breath always being with us, that we unequivocally take it for granted. We're too so often checked out of our bodies, that we believe we breathe with our brains.
More than seven years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, this was made abundantly clear. I had a random and terrifying panic attack. I literally couldn't find my breath -- it was so shallow and constricted -- and my mind went crazy searching for it. Only when I dropped out of my head and re-inhabited my body did breathing kick in, and my lungs soften to receive it.
Seriously, we shouldn't have to wait around for something acute like this to happen to get us to pay attention to our breathing. If you're not convinced, here are five of my favorite reasons to be conscious of the breath:
1. It is cleansing -- In with the new, the fresh and the vibrant. Out with the old, the toxic and the unnecessary. I find this to be such a relief. Before signing up for the next best juice cleanse, apply this same intention for ridding yourself of built-up residue in a series of focused, conscious breaths. Here, you are essentially asking your body to promote the healing and ablution of itself. Talk about empowering.
2. It is conductive -- When you direct healing breath into sore parts of your body, it helps to alleviate pain. How many times have you had a massage where the masseuse asks you to breathe into the tight muscle that he or she is working on? Breath not only helps you release muscle tension, but it also energetically harnesses the power of the mind to support such release.
3. It is calming -- Nothing like a few deep breaths to quiet you down when you are aggravated and on edge. There's also a reason for the classic recommendation to step away from an argument, take 10 deep breaths and collect yourself before engaging again. In fact, awareness of breath is a miracle worker when it comes to riding the tumultuous waves of anger, or intense stress and fear responses. The key is slow, steady breathing in replacement of the jagged, hollow rasping that grips most of us when in the throes of difficult emotions.
4. It is centering -- With each inhale and exhale you are drawn inwards, and into deeper awareness of yourself. The capacity for breathing to enable us to actually withdraw from overstimulus and the hyped-up pace of the outer world is glorious, and an incredible tool. The beauty here is that it is available even in the most public of places, as no one will really notice on the train or standing in line or in a waiting room if you close your eyes, take the moment to touch that sweet peace inside, and connect more deeply with your true self.
5. It is connective -- The breath acts as a link to spirit, synchronizing body and mind. Yoga poses can be wonderful precursors to a quiet sitting breathing practice, and are inherently supportive of the body-mind-spirit triad. Still, if yoga isn't your thing, the breath alone can bring you into a place of expansiveness, where a sense of profound unity with the universal energy both in and all around you is brought about through the steadiness of mind and the relaxation of the body through, quite simply, the inhale and the exhale.
In meditation, we are often encouraged to count our breaths. Maybe this sounds incredibly dull to you, like counting sheep to put you to sleep. Yet in my son's bedtime book, Russell the Sheep, Russell is a sheep who tries desperately hard to fall asleep, but he just can't settle down. He tries counting everything, until he finally decides to count sheep or essentially count on himself. Guess what, it works. Finally, relaxed enough, he dozes off.
Breathing is like this, too. When we count our breath, we count on our breath. We discover it is the ticket back to ourselves. The breath both coaches and coaxes us into self-reliance, not only for relaxation into sleeping states, but also for profound letting go in superlatively chaotic and awake states. What a tool!
The beauty of breath is that it is, for most of us, always available. It is, after all, what makes living in these blessed and temperamental bodies possible, right? So please, if nothing else, honor your breathing. Believe in it. Really value it. Consciously BREATHE.
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