Inhale. Exhale. Seems obvious, maybe. Breathing is something that happens automatically without any consideration on our part. We don’t pay any mind until and unless breathing becomes difficult. Have you ever had one of those upper respiratory infections where it’s a struggle to get a deep breath or your nose is so stuffed up it feels like you may never smell anything again, ever? It reminds us to appreciate what we have. Time for meditation then.
Let’s start there. Breathing in through the nose and offering this moment of mindful consideration with gratitude that the airways are clear. If you are currently battling a cold, my apologies. We hope you recover quickly.
Breath work is called work for one particular reason; it takes concentration to focus on breathing. How can something that often goes unnoticed suddenly become work? Put another way, this practice is a kind of meditation. Maybe you have tried to meditate? If so, you are well aware of the monkey mind that rattles the cage when we attempt to open up to silence. And it is particularly because we don’t have to pay attention to breathing that makes it a trick to then do it with intention.
Breath work is serious science with a tremendously long history and track record for being a benefit to both physical and mental wellness. You too can achieve improved sleep, digestion, slowed heart rate, increased mental clarity and emotional balance with 10 minutes of focused breath work a day.
How gorgeous is that?
Here’s how to get started:
I would love to say begin by sitting comfortably, but that would be misleading. If you are sitting properly then it may not also be comfortable. Your back should be straight, shoulders relaxed and slightly rolled back so that you are gently squeezing your shoulder blades together. Often, I sit on a pillow so my hips are elevated above my knees. This relieves some pressure on the low back as well. My teacher reminds me, “either sit up straight or lay down. The health of the body is determined by the health of the spine!”
The tip of your tongue should be touching the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth. Tip your chin slightly toward your chest to lengthen the back of your neck and align your ears over your shoulders. With desk jobs and generally poor posture, the curve of the neck is increased because we tend to carry our chins too far forward. Ideally, you will have also stretched a bit before trying to sit for any length of time. This is the true purpose of yoga; to prepare the body for meditation.
While yogis will sit in silence practicing their breath work for many hours, we will start with ten minutes. This might feel like an eternity for some people. If that’s the case, start with three minutes and work your way up. How long you do it is up to you, it’s the quality of the time you spend that’s important.
You may find that it offers so many astounding results that you wish to add more time. It is suggested to then practice twice per day for 10 minutes at a time until your focus becomes steady. You will know you have achieved this when you fall in love with your breath, the simple inward draw of oxygen, the effortless exhale, without noticing the monkey at all.
The substance of this practice is found within the process of tuning into the one thing that comes most naturally to every living creature on earth; breathing. It is simple, but it’s not easy.
Inhale deeply, slowly taking oxygen into your lungs. Allow your shoulders to rise and fall with the rhythm of respiration. Then fill your belly and your chest with air letting your body expand like a balloon. When you exhale push the last bit of air out of your lungs with light force. And then feel what it’s like to allow your body the natural impulse to breathe without you trying.
With the next breath, remembering to touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and pause at the top of your inhalation for the count of three. Slowly exhale until all the breath is freed from your body. The rhythm of breath is: inhale for the count of six, pause for three and exhale for the count of eight. Begin where you are without forcing it and work up to this if you need to.
This is where focus become important. Place your attention on the spot between your eyebrows or try spending some time with your awareness focused on the sensation of breathing in and out through your nostrils. Be gentle with yourself. Your thoughts have had free reign for a long time and they don’t want to give up their position in the hierarchy so be prepared to practice patience.
If a thought arises allow it, “my knee hurts”, “I can’t feel my nose!” “this is boring” then gently send them away and come back to breath. All of that is fine and normal, but it is a self-sabotage technique the ego uses to keep us from attaining higher planes of consciousness.
Return to breath and bring your focus back to inhale. Exhale.
I hope you come to think of this time as a great kindness to yourself. It is impossible to sit in silence for any length of time and fail to get to know oneself more deeply. Mindfulness is a practice of becoming our true selves more fully. Of course, you will not always want to sit. It will not seem like a fun thing to do when you would rather do something else. I invite you to pay attention to how it feels to skip it.
I find the benefits of 10 minutes to be such a simple act with exponentially increasing benefits that motivating myself to take a shower requires more effort. I encourage you to find a time each morning before you get out of bed or right before breakfast (it’s recommended to do this exercise on an empty stomach). Maybe turn off the TV or computer earlier in the evening to allow yourself the space.
Breath work creates more balance in our lives because it helps us slow down, reflect, and cope with life’s stresses more gracefully. It is not a substitute for health care or counseling and of course, nutrition and proper exercise are important as well, but it is one way you can invite more peace into your life. Meditation can change your life.