Have you been in a challenging situation, stressed out, anxious and had someone tell you to stop, take a deep breath? There’s valid reason behind it.
I first became aware of joy through the simple act of breath during yoga teacher training. I laid on the mat and and listened to my instructor repeat “deep breath in, deep breath out, deep breath in, deep breath out…let it be rhythmical… breathe in, breathe out.” We focused only on the breath, and the sensations that rose up.
My hands felt like electrical gloves, my body tingled and my mind calmed, thoughts flowing through like clouds passing by. This was my first experience with breathwork, something I had never heard of before. I was told it could be cathartic, healing, joyous, releasing and blissful all at the same time. For me, that day was blissful. A beam of sunshine warmed my face and I could see the rays of light behind my eyelids. I felt as though I was surrounded by angels as they supported me through this journey. I had NO idea how powerful breathwork could be!
We can physically calm the body just by breathing,
which in turn send all sorts of signals, neurotransmitters, and endorphins to the brain,
creating a state of relaxation,
which can alter a situation into a state of joy.
Breathing is the first thing students are taught in yoga – how to breathe with the movements or during a meditative state. Breath is the foundation for mindfulness and appreciation of the simple aspects of life. Using breath to become more mindful in the moment can alter and revitalize your state of being, creating clarity and focus by calming or stimulating the nervous system.
How does this work in our bodies?
We are the only species on the planet that can purposely alter the rate of our breath. Other aquatic mammals can hold their breath but to physically change the inhale and exhale pattern, to consciously affect our nervous system, is specific to humans.
The vague nerve is a long nerve that runs from the base of the brain, down the front of the spinal column and enters into the diaphragm (the muscle that controls breathing). It is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic mode, as well as our relaxation, ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic mode. If our breathing is in our upper chest and is fast and tensed, the diaphragm squeezes the vagus nerve, sending signals back to the brain that we need to ‘prepare for action’. Vice versa, when we take long, slow, controlled breaths deep down into our belly, it’s as if the diaphragm is give the vagus nerve a nice calm massage and it sends signals back to the brain to relax the body.
What if conscious breathing could lead to joy?
There’s a JOY in breathing, in revitalizing oneself, in calming the nervous system, centering in on our connection with the prana, our life-giving force. In these moments, we may become aware of the beauty of life and how WE have the opportunity to transform our state of being. While you may be familiar with the basics of calming yourself with breath, sometimes an extended breathwork session can surface profound, transformative insights. Meditation often incorporates breath techniques as well. Long, slow, rhythmical breathing aligned with thought.
There are also more intensive practices, such as Holotropic Breathwork (™) which is described as “a powerful approach to self-exploration and healing that integrates insights from modern consciousness research, anthropology, various depth psychologies, transpersonal psychology, Eastern spiritual practices, and mystical traditions of the world.” It is a deepening of the practice of breathing, intended to activate inner healing and raise consciousness.
Too much for you? Just want to know how to use breath to just relax, calm the chaos of the mind, destress from a crazy situation? Below are simple steps to begin focusing on breath. You can be standing, sitting, or lying down, eyes open or closed, indoors or outdoors. This breathing technique can be done anywhere, anytime. Here we go….
Notice how you are breathing. Fast or Slow? Deep or shallow? Do you breathe in your chest or belly? Are you breathing from your mouth or nose?
Start by breathing in and out your nose. Slow down your inhale and exhale, take deep breaths and allow your belly rise and fall (like a happy Buddha belly).
Begin with 10 cycles of breathing in/out to the count of 4…and gradually work up to 5 minutes (or longer). Inhale: 1…2…3…4. Exhale: 1…2…3…4.
Try following the below as a simple example:
This basic breathing technique can alter your state of being. And it’s so simple that you can share this practice with others as well. Create calm with your kids when there’s too much energy, create a state of clarity before a business meeting, destress in the car during traffic (no closing the eyes though!), help to focus when the mind just won’t quiet down, nourish the soul and lungs while in nature, start the day off right first thing in the morning, or help clear the mind for a restful sleep. The opportunities are endless and effects are immediate! Enjoy
Curious about other forms of breathwork? Check out this website.