2006: Issue 4
Are You Breathing?
Of course you are, because breathing is one of those automatic responses/habits that keeps us alive. But, are you really breathing?
For years, I have heard that in the practice of yoga, breathing is an important component. And I have always heard singers talk about learning breathing techniques to improve the quality of their singing. When clients are wondering how they shift their automatic verbal or physical reaction to an appropriate response, I tell them to take a deep breath. When watching basketball, my evening activity these days, I observe many players taking a deep breath as they prepare to shoot their foul shot, and when Shawn’s on the foul line, I take a deep breath with him.
In spite of knowing and seeing the value of deep breathing, what I now refer to as “intentional breathing”, majority of us go through our day with very restricted breathing, shallow breaths, confined mainly to the top of the chest, and often with our abdomen contracted, and our shoulders tensed. Result: maximum effort for a minimum amount of air; only benefit, sustaining life for the moment.
This is merely the product of life experience for as infants, we did breathe deeply—watch a young one sleep if you want a reminder. See their belly rise with each inhalation, and flatten as they exhale. Watch a toddler’s body when they’re screaming, running, crying, laughing, and you will see their belly move in and out as they continually exercise their diaphragm, stretching it down into the abdominal cavity giving the lungs the room they need to fully expand and maximize their intake of oxygen, and then letting it rebound up into the chest cavity as they release the carbon dioxide.
And then we grow up and “stop that foolish play”, pile on stress factors, and essentially stop exercising our diaphragm and all the other connected muscles. By doing so, we begin diminishing the benefit of our respiratory system to our overall health and well-being. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I have had one of those very busy weeks, where the days and nights run together, and I seem to be struggling to keep up with and honor my commitments. Perhaps you’ve had weeks like this. The good news is that it has led me to practice “intentional breathing.” To consciously inhale deeply through my nose and mouth, watching my abdomen extend (further), and then flatten as I exhale. Doing other breathing techniques, which essentially are differentiated by the rhythms of inhaling and exhaling, have yielded positive results. I feel the stress dissipating. I am able to think more clearly, and not let the sense of panic set in. I am increasing my chance of responding, instead of reacting, minimizing the creation of problems. And I actually feel like I am doing something for myself, which is improving my overall health and wellbeing.
Copyright 2006, Extra Ordinary Living, Inc. All rights reserved.