Updated: May 22, 2021
As I move through a challenging and irritating situation, whether it is traffic or a situation where I do not see eye to eye to someone else, I must remind myself to breathe. The topic of breathing comes up quite often, in so many different forms. It is one of the most natural things we do. It is the very first thing we do when we enter this world and the last when we leave it. What happens in between becomes a matter of routine, with little thought, until we realize how much this unconscious act can hurt or heal us.
How the Breath Can Heal Us
How many times have you heard or said to someone, "Just take a breath"? Taking a minute to stop and expand your lungs sending oxygen to your brain instantly can center us. If you continue to take long deep inhales and exhales, you will feel a deep sense of calm come over you.
And in the Same Breath, Harm Us
I was deep into my yoga teacher training before I discovered I had been breathing all wrong. As children we come out of the womb with the natural ability to breathe properly. As we become more aware of our surroundings, we start to take shallow breaths or hold our breath when we are afraid. This could lead to improper breathing. When you breathe, is the breath shallow, held, or exaggerated deep breathing? When we adopt this type of breathing practices, we are cutting off oxygen to the brain that can lead to stress, tight muscles, high blood pressure, and fatigue.
Discovering How You Breathe
To determine if you are among the many that have developed restricted breathing, lie on your back. Place one hand on your belly. As you breath in, notice where the breath goes. If you feel your belly rising, you are on the right track. I was a chest breather, so I felt my chest expand and my belly sink. This is restrictive and certainly I experienced fatigue, stress, and high blood pressure. Proper breathing should be deep in the belly and expanding up through the chest, lungs, and through the collarbones. If you do find that the breath is not headed deep in your belly, not to worry. It just takes a little practices and conscious awareness.
How to Correct the Breath
If you do not already have a regular meditation practice that includes breath work, you can start with just a couple of minutes a day of breathing in and out through the nose for a four count. Focus on bringing the air deep into the abdomen, placing your hand here to notice it rise. Pause for a count and exhale slowly on a four count as the air releases in the opposite direction. As with many things, with continued practice your breathing will improve over time. You should experience more energy and be better equipped to deal with stress. So, the next time someone says, "Just breathe!" you will know the proper method of doing so.