In a busy world, it’s sometimes hard to catch your breath.
Last week I explored dedicating my time and my full energy to yoga (and to other areas of my life, and if you missed it, you can check it out here). This week flows along that same vein but goes a little deeper into being truly present.
Perhaps one the most important things, if not the most important thing, in yoga is the breath. Breathing is our life force. No one will argue with that, because it is inherently true: we all need to breathe to survive. Yet for a lot of people, including myself, paying attention to one’s breath is rarely, if ever, part of one’s regular habits.
Listening to your breath requires a mind that is present and focused. Because breathing is such a natural part of the human experience, it can be difficult to truly appreciate it’s value; yet when we approach it with mindfulness, all sorts of things reveal themselves.
This week, I discovered a few of those things. The first, and perhaps the most important, was this:
When I pay attention to my breathing, I become truly present in the moment.
In fact, time seems to slow down when I close my eyes and inhale – I think about the air flowing in through my nose and into my lungs, and sometimes I even picture it circulating, creating a current of energy in my body and casting light and space into areas which may be cramped or closed in on themselves. As I exhale, I expel negative energy, emotions, thoughts, feelings, and carbon dioxide. It is cleansing, refreshing, and a wonderful way to re-start if I feel stressed, overwhelmed, or out of control.
When I feel pressed for time, or anxious because there I have some sort of obligation looming over my day, I am able to return to the breath and be in the moment. I won’t lie to you and say that this helps my problems go away, and it definitely doesn’t get me out of pressing social engagements, but it does help me search myself for the strength, courage, and peace I need to go and conquer my day.
When I breathe mindfully, I tell my body to relax.
More than that, there is a practical side to mindful breathing. Actively inhaling and exhaling, using the muscle in your lower torso called the diaphragm, helps you to relax and settle into a calm and meditative state. In my case, this is extremely useful for relieving anxiety – and the best part is, I can use this technique anywhere: in the car, in the shower, at work in class, before bed. This technique is always accessible.
It is particularly powerful in my life because it is the opposite of the fight-or-flight mechanism we have as a natural part of our lives. It helps us to stay calm in situations where our natural response is to freak out and run away (trust me, I’ve been through this many, many times). As mentioned earlier, it’s a way to take control over my brain when it’s panicking. When done correctly, deep breathing helps you to be in charge of yourself – when everything else around you is spiraling down into chaos.
When I am truly present, I am better prepared to care for my mental and physical states.
Deep breathing is a personal experience. It is also exploratory, and through regular practice one can discover unresolved tension hidden in the mind and in the body.
Just this morning, I was practicing deep breathing and discovered that I had a stitch in my left side. I had only just gotten out of bed, and I had no idea where it came from, but I was able to stretch it out and, in the process, discovered something out of alignment which I was able to put back into place.
This is true for the mind as well. Many times I’ll be practicing deep breathing and feel the urge to cry – this urge usually stemming from repressed emotions. In fact, these emotions are, most of the time, not even a mystery to me. When the tears come, days in waiting, I know immediately why: these are the tears of frustration I didn’t shed in the car yesterday, or the tears of sadness I didn’t cry when I was feeling blue three or four days before that.
When I am present in the moment, I am able to tend to these unresolved issues in a private, healthy manner. This is just one of the unexpected side-effects of deep breathing!
All in all, deep breathing is just better for you.
You don’t have to trust my word for it – although I spent a week practicing breathing, and doing very little else, so you can if you want – just google deep breathing benefits and hundreds of sources will pop up. Some of them will even be legit!
This week has been a really rough week for me. I’ve been insanely busy, and it’s been tempting to curl up in a stressed-out fetal position instead of face my life. But through yoga, and by focusing on deep breathing, I’ve found a little pocket of peace where I can exercise control and still enjoy my life.
What’s your experience with deep breathing? Any yogi thoughts you want to share? I can’t wait to hear from you!