When was the last time you took a full, deep breath? Or even noticed your breath at all? I often go days without noticing mine.
Of course this is normal. Breathing is an innate part of our lives, something we do naturally and automatically. The challenge is that most of us are doing it wrong.
From our stressful daily lives, we often find that our breath has become shallow and rigid, an upper chest type of breath.
Check it out for yourself. Close your eyes and notice your own breath. Is it shallow or deep? Rigid or flowing? Where do you feel the breath? Unless you have just come from a yoga class, it is probably relatively shallow.
Whole, deep breathing is a natural and important way of the body taking care of itself. If you have ever been around a sleeping baby you will notice that when a baby breathes they breathe using their entire body. In fact, I was holding my friend’s newborn a few months ago and was blown away by his expansive breath, especially for such a little human being.
Belly breathing uses the deepest, lowest part of our lungs. It brings in fresh air and nourishment to our body. This type of breathing calms our nervous system. Like taking a warm, soothing bubble bath, belly breathing signals our body that it is time to rest and renew.
You might be wondering: Why is it so powerful? I believe that in our modern day society our primitive nervous systems have not yet evolved enough to handle the constant stimulation of every day stimulation of noise, traffic, text messages, even TV. The constant stimulation floods our system with an overwhelming amount of information. This would be fine if we did not evolve for thousands of years in relatively calm environments, where large amounts of stimulation meant you were being attacked. By a tiger or a bear. Literally.
Our shallow breathing signals our primitive nervous system that we are in distress, so it begins to prepare itself, becoming stronger and more motivated in order to help us survive the attack. We begin to breathe shallowly, and the mind reads “Oh no- danger!!” This is really important from an evolutionary standpoint because it is how our species survived. Which is pretty remarkable, but not so useful in today’s modern world. When was the last time it made sense for you to run from a tiger? Or traffic?
In order to adapt to our modern day world, we have to notice our breath and remind our body that we are okay, that there is nothing that needs to be done. Belly breathing tells our body that we are safe.
Belly breathing can be done anywhere anytime, we just focus in and start breathing from the belly. We can also use breath-work in a more formal, meditative way.
6 Steps to Belly Breathing:
1. Close your eyes and notice your own breath. Don’t try to alter anything. Is it shallow or deep? Rigid or flowing? Where do you feel the breath in your body?
2. Breathe in through your nose. Place one or both hands over the belly. On the inhale bring your awareness to the belly and notice the belly begin to gently rise and expand. (Note: When you first begin you may notice that the breaths are large an exaggerated like balloon which is fine, but as you continue to train your breath it will become a more fluid, gentle, widening, and expansive feeling.)
3. On the exhale, imagine blowing all the air gently out of your mouth, like you’re blowing bubbles, noticing the belly gently melting the in and down.
4. At this point you are invited to begin to count your breaths. Inhaling 1, 2, 3, 4 Pause Exhaling 1, 2, 3, 4 Pause.
5. Continue this breath for at least 10 cycles of breath or 5 minutes.
6. Once again notice the sensation of the breath and the space that you’ve created within.
Below is a live group meditation using breathwork: