Breath is what is called a primary pattern, meaning it’s one of the first things a child does when he or she is born. Your whole body responds to the air that you bring in through your lungs, not just your chest, and oxygen is the most vital nutrient your body requires.
While you can live without food and water for days, possibly months, you will survive for a mere four minutes, six at best, without air. Your breath is the interface between voluntary movement and the more passive activities of your organs because it can be somewhat controlled by conscious effort. But, when we let go with our attention, breath continues to flow into our tissues and feed our cells.
Sadly, many people have forgotten how to breathe. Fear, worry, and stress contract the tissues around the rib cage and bring in only a small amount of air, just barely enough to maintain basic functions. Some people teach that there is a “proper” way to breathe, for meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, relaxation, labor, etc.
It’s easy to learn a breath pattern that serves a particular activity and then to get stuck there indefinitely. These patterns, which at first liberate us from our own neurological rut, transform into a prison with no alternatives. When you have one choice, you have a prison, two choices is a dilemma, and having three choices equals adaptability. We’re striving for adaptability.
Breath is a powerful tool, and when you develop awareness of your own pattern, you can alter it to accompany sports, change your emotions, increase or decrease muscular tension, activate your organs, strengthen your singing or speaking voice, and to support or change the curvature of your spine. And you thought breath just oxygenated your blood! By working with the flow of breath in your body, you basically go beneath all the harmful and damaging movement patterns you’ve learned throughout your life and reset your body in a neutral place. This is, of course, a process and a practice; however, for profound physical and emotional changes, there is no greater lever than breath work.
Your ribs function much like Venetian blinds that hang in a window. If you’ve ever looked at a skeleton, you’ll notice that the rib bones are flat and wide, not round like most people assume. In a living body, the ribs – actually, all bones – are flexible, soft, and pliable. Unfortunately, science studies dead bodies that are devoid of fluid, so we mistakenly think of bones as dried up, rock hard structures. The reality is quite the contrary! In fact, even in dried bone, if the bone is chipped or broken in half, you will see a honeycomb of very fragile calcium strata that looks like a delicate beehive.
Living bone is more like a sponge than a rock. Yes, it’s more stable than muscle or connective tissue, but our bones, like the rest of our body, hold a lot of fluid in them. This allows your bones to adjust to breath and other subtle rhythms within the body. As you inhale, your whole body should open up and go into external rotation (palms moving outward, legs rotating away from the hips, spine extending – imagine a starfish reaching outward with all five arms), and as you exhale, your body should subtly reverse the movement, coming inward towards the fetal position.
Did you know that everywhere you have ribs, you also have lung space? You have just as much rib bone in your back as you do in the front of your body, therefore, you also have just as much availability for breath and movement in your back.
The primary muscle to initiate breath should be the diaphragm; however, most people are unaware of how their diaphragms function. It is a large, dome shaped muscle that spans your costal arch (the front, lower part of your ribs, where your abdomen begins). As you inhale, the dome flattens downward, toward your feet, pulling air into the chest cavity. When you exhale, the muscle relaxes and is pulled back up towards the sky, pressing air out of your lungs.
Breathing rhythms are too small to notice most of the time. They are overshadowed by the greater vibrations in our world – cars, music, chatting on the telephone. We rarely pause long enough to pay attention to our breathing, and equally as dangerous, when we do pay attention, we are usually trying to control and manipulate it rather than allow it to flow naturally and fully. Breath should move organically to release blockages of tension and negative emotion that have been stored in the body.
Trying too hard to control the breath can result in pain, discomfort, or reduced range of motion if you become fixated in one type of breath work. Try the following exercises to begin. monitoring your breathing. I find it easiest to do this while lying down, but you can also sit in a chair if that’s more comfortable. Allow your breath to flow in and out of your body in a natural rhythm. You may be surprised to discover that you take in very little air! That’s okay, don’t try to change anything just yet.
- Notice whether you pause after you inhale or exhale or if you just keep on breathing.
- Do you feel your breath more in your chest or your stomach?
- Does your stomach rise or drop inward toward your spine as you inhale?
- Can you feel your diaphragm pulling downward toward your feet as you breathe in?
- Spend a little time focusing on your diaphragm and imagining the large dome flattening out when you inhale, resuming its dome-like shape as you exhale.
- Do you feel movement in any other areas of your body when you breathe, such as your spine, hands, feet, arms, legs, or even your head?
- Do you have more breath in the front of your body or the back of your body?
- Begin to explore the edges of the shape of your breath. For example, if you feel your breath makes a narrow tube down the center of your body, start feeling where the edges of the tube exist. How far down does it travel? Breathe into the edges as you explore.
The simple act of noticing your breath will begin to shift the pattern. Don’t try too hard! That negates the purpose of the exercise.
Here’s dessert: a guided meditation to help improve your breathing.
Today’s blog is by Seattle, Washington’s Sukie Baxter, Holistic Arts Practitioner and Wellness Consultant. Sukie helps clients achieve amazing mental, physical, and emotional vitality. To learn how to rejuvenate your body and soul using natural health strategies that get real results, register for her free weekly articles at http://www.SukieBaxter.com. Thanks Sukie!!