Your life started with an inhalation and it will end with an exhalation. If you are leading an average life you may take some 750 000 000 breaths in between. Your breath is always there, regardless if you are paying attention to it or not. In fact, your breath is the only constant thing in your life, which you can both observe and (within limits) steer with your will. Yet, most people never pay any attention to their breathing, except when being short of breath during physical exercise.
The breathing is an absolute condition for life. It oxygenates the blood, and it rids the body from waste products. As has been identified in the Eastern traditions for thousands of years, the breath is also providing the link between our body and mind. It is therefore natural that focus on the breathing is a cornerstone in Buddhist meditation practices. Most martial art practices emphasise and utilise good breathing practices, and different breathing exercises (pranayamas) is one of the eight limbs of the yogic practice, and also an important component of the practice of yoga postures (asanas).
You could also use your breathing as an anchor in your everyday life, supporting both your physical and mental well-being. To do this, you will need to be aware of your breathing habits. Do you often have a rapid and shallow breathing pattern when you are becoming stressed? In that case you are not alone. Shallow chest breathing is not only a result of being tense, it is also a cause of tension. Another dysfunctional breathing pattern is the rapid hyperventilation during anxiety. This results in depressed blood levels of carbon dioxide and calcium, which may cause dizziness, confusion, agitation, numbness and tingling in the arms and face, cramps and even fainting.
In contrast, changing the breathing pattern to a slower and deeper abdominal breathing, engaging the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles, engages larger parts of lungs for oxygenation of the blood, making the breathing more effective, and it also produces a feeling of calm and being in control. To take a deep breath when being upset is therefore a good advice.
An increased awareness of your breath during the days, will also be a major help for you to be better present in the moment, as a simple but effective mindfulness practice.
But harmony and calmness are not the only mental benefits from breathing with awareness. The yogic breath of fire (kapalabhati), stimulates the brain and is a tool to reach higher levels of consciousness. This fast and rhythmic breath has an equal emphasis on the inhale and exhale. No deeper than a sniffing, it is done by pumping the naval towards the spine on the exhale and out on the inhale. It is done through the nostrils with moth and eyes closed.
Another yogic breathing is the alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodana), which is an effective way of centring your mind. Modern research has also shown that breathing through one nostril, increases the activity of the contra-lateral brain hemisphere, and the practice of nadi shadana therefore stimulates both brain hemispheres in an alternating pattern that may (at least theoretically) enhance the ability of a richer creative thinking.
As your breath is the only tool that you always carry with you, learn how to make best use of it to be grounded in your daily life and be more creative.
Illustration: Pixabay.com – HarryFabel