Breathe Your Way to Deep Relaxation
The most common form of relaxation we know is subconscious; we experience it every night in deep sleep. It is invigorating, refreshing, and restorative. If we notice, this is also the time when our breath is very relaxed. Every night, we forget our worries and enter a world of deep stillness and peace. We are given hints to healthy ways of being through nature's mechanisms.
However, sleep is still a pseudo-state of relaxation because it is passive and does not engage the will. We can quickly lose the peace we gain from passive relaxation because the conscious intent of our will does not uphold it. True relaxation evolves from a conscious, intentional use of willpower — focusing the power of our breath and thoughts to lift the energy up the spine to the point between the eyebrows. Such relaxation can keep us calm and relaxed, even in difficult circumstances.
There is a direct relationship between our breath and state of consciousness. When we are excited, restless, or fearful, our breath becomes restless and agitated. However, when we are focused on a task, say threading a needle or shooting a fine picture, we must calm or even temporarily stop the breath to effectively accomplish the activity.
Modern life and its stressors cause most people to breathe shallow through the chest. Proper breathing involves the diaphragm — a large muscle located at the base of the lungs. The diaphragm contracts and moves downward as we inhale, pushing the belly out and creating space for the lungs to expand, filling them with air. As we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward, drawing the belly in, helping move air out of the lungs.
This is a full diaphragmatic breath.
Diaphragmatic breathing (also called "abdominal breathing" or "belly breathing") leads to greater oxygenation and decarbonization of the blood. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows the heartbeat and lowers or stabilizes blood pressure.
How Are We Breathing?
Lie down on your back, placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Now, inhale slowly, deeply, feeling the belly, rib cage, and finally, the upper chest expand; as you exhale, feel the relaxation, beginning in the upper chest, then lower rib cage, and finally the belly.
You can also practice diaphragmatic breathing sitting in a chair, keeping the spine upright, shoulders relaxed, chest open, and chin parallel to the floor. Practice 5 to 6 times a day.
Here are some quick tips to deeply relax through breathwork:
Inhale and exhale using a double breath. This is a short and long inhalation through the nose followed by a short and long exhalation through the mouth, consciously engaging the diaphragm.
Now and then, take a pause and check on your breathing. Are you breathing from the chest or the diaphragm?
When you feel overwhelmed, restless, or fearful, practice the following pranayama:
Exhale slowly, counting from 1 to 6.
While the lungs are empty, hold your breath, mentally count from 1 to 6.
Inhale slowly, counting from 1 to 6.
Then hold your breath, counting from 1 to 6.
Repeat 11 times.
My life is filled with various responsibilities, but these breath practices, meditation, and more conscious living have been tremendously supportive in helping me cope. Each time I encounter a challenging or overwhelming situation, my natural response is to take a deep breath before taking the next step.
It is fascinating that the inhaling breath is called inspiration because, in that one breath, I have often found the inspiration, energy, and strength needed to accomplish any task.
Join me in learning how to connect to your breath in a way that fosters true wellbeing.