For every health problem, first look to the breath.
-Old Chinese Saying
Make Time for Breathing
When did I first realize that I was a shallow breather? I believe I was in my twenties, still living in New York. I remember noticing my tense body and thinking “Wow, if I continue to tighten my stomach muscles like this and hardly take any air in when I breathe…This is going to catch up to me.”
It was the early ’90s when I first started to browse the web. Trying to help myself with some health issues, I stumbled upon various websites where I learned about the fight-or-flight syndrome, and how I wasn’t the only one in it. When you’re in flight or flight, your muscles are tensed, your internal organs’ blood circulation is decreased (hello digestive problems), and your breathing is shallow. Not a good recipe for self-healing.
All You Need to Breathe Well Are Some Headphones
Your breath is affected by your emotions. But what I didn’t realize is that your emotions are affected by how you breathe. Luckily, you can learn how to breathe well. It takes some practice but it can be done. I learned by listening to 8-12 minutes of Perfect Breath on my ipod 1-2 times a day. Basically you slowly exhale fully (try it now), and then take a long slow inhale while visualizing air coming into the top of your head, down into your belly….and then you slowly exhale the air down through your legs and out your feet. That’s one way to do it. It’s a lovely feeling you get after a few minutes of this relaxation. You just know that this is how you’re supposed to feel.
I’ve often wondered why I was so tense. I thought it was because of my spine surgery I had when I was 14. And because growing up in a big city can be harsh to the senses. But it is what it is. And what’s wonderful is that we can change our habits.
I am lucky to live near a beach so that I can walk barefoot and sometimes do deep breathing to the sounds of the surf. But even if you’re in your office cubicle, you can plug in headphones and search youtube for a video that has a peaceful soundtrack (or try this one here!). Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Doing this for even 5-10 minutes once or twice a day is so health-promoting that I cannot recommend it enough! And it’s free!
Almost every time I spend a few moments breathing I will have some sort of insight, like a tidbit to add to my website or an idea that I can apply to a work project. Which is nice because it makes my projects better.
Deep breathing techniques are very effective at helping with depression and anxiety and pain and fear and really anything you can think of . I believe that everyone could do with a bit more oxygen! Each and every day.
The Perfect Breathing Workbook: A 28-Day Transformation to Better Living delves deeper into how to develop the habit of breath awareness. Just 10 minutes a day of proper breathing can change you. I’ve learned that if I have better control of my breath, then I have better control over my ability to heal.
For example, mindful breathing has really helped me be calmer. If I’m in a conversation with someone and they start talking negatively (about sickness, or not having enough money etc.), and I feel myself tensing up, now I just see it as another opportunity to practice my breath. I inhale slowly and deeply to the count of 3, and exhale slowly and completely to the count of 3. Breathwork practitioners Al Lee and Don Campbell call this Six Second Foundation Breathing. They even have a 7 page pdf that you can print out for free to help remind you to breathe well. I printed out page 3 and it is taped to my wall to my right. When I see it, I breathe better. You can get their free manual from their site, perfectbreathing.com.
Lee and Campbell write that we now know that 90% of the energy the body uses comes directly from the breath – only 10% comes from the food that we eat. This means that if you breathe correctly, you’ll have more energy. And this is exactly what I’ve found. I like to pick one track and lie down and listen to it. You can also sit up straight in a chair, with your eyes closed. I find it amazing that, again, something so simple can be so powerful for healing. Not to mention free.
Relaxation and Stress Reduction
If you prefer to have a book about many different ways to relax, here’s a great one. It’s called The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook. I bought this years ago and still refer to it when I want to vary my relaxation technique. Progressive relaxation, where you tense your muscles one by one, hold for a moment, and then release with an exhale, is particularly relaxing. I firmly believe that if you can’t relax, health problems are already present or are just around the corner. Speaking more optimistically, however, find time to release stress each day and you will feel better and better in your life!