“Breathing is the vehicle of spiritual experience, the mediator between body and mind. It is the first step towards the transformation of the body from the state of a more or less passive and unconsciously functioning physical organ into a vehicle or tool of a perfectly developed and enlightened mind.”
Philip Kapleau. The Three Pillars of Zen
One of the most valuable resources we can use for our health and wellbeing. Well, we do, and it is our breath. I am not, by the way, revealing anything that has not been known for thousands of years in many healing and spiritual traditions throughout the world. It has however been subsumed by our modern complex culture and it is only in the past year that I have personally realized and have since practiced a daily commitment to my breath. Along the way I think I have discovered three important ways we can use our breath to improve our health and wellbeing.
I would like to share with you three easy ways to access our breaths:
Vigorous active breath work:
This has become one of the more valuable daily rituals
I have added to my life in a long time.
I sit and do 20-40 deep vigorous breath cycles – breathing in through my nose and out my mouth until I get a bit lightheaded or experience a bit of anxiety at which time I exhale and then hold my breath. It has been fun to practice breath holds to see how long I can hold it – I remember doing this as a kid -to see how long I could hold my breath. Once the urge to take a breath comes on, I inhale deeply and then exhale in a long and slow pursed lip push (see the video below) and then repeat the cycle. I may do it just once or I may sit for three or four rounds of it. It goes without saying to not attempt this while driving or say swimming.
I feel I have discovered found several benefits of the practice:
+ Daily reset or reenergize.
+ Strategy to manage anxiety.
+ Improve cardiovascular fitness.
+ can be used as a warmup for aerobic exercise
Slow breathing or rhythm breathing
It is here that we slow our breathing down. sitting frequently with our breaths and gently slowing down the respiratory rhythm is a wonderful relaxing and restorative activity. When we slow down or breathing especially the exhalation, we stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for rest and recovery. Needless to say, the modern frantic distracted lives we live tend to not lend themselves to parasympathetic tone. In fact we are most often in a sympathetic tone which, as we have all heard, is what is called ; fight or flight. There simply is no better strategy to balance the distracted frenetic pace of our lives that to sit several times a day and purposely slow down our breathing. Having no time is no excuse. We have the time we just forget to do it. It does not occur to us, yet I have found that the breath – being so available lends itself to becoming a habit. The more we occupy our bodies the more we discover how pleasant and beneficial it to slow our breathing.
+ Increase sympathetic tone – rest and recovery.
+ Slowing breathing during activity is challenging but give back in performance gains quickly.
+ By focusing on nasal breathing, we bring back the functioning of our sinuses
As an object of meditation:
When we use our breaths as an object of focus in our meditations, we develop mind focus which is the first step in a successful meditation practice. The more we use the breath as an object of meditation assuming we are meditating frequently enough the more it occurs to us to access the breath during our days for either the vigorous breath work or the slowing work. The breath then becomes a bridge between our formal meditations and a more mindfulness approach in our days.
By cultivating an intimate relationship with our breath by 1.) habitually slowing our breathing, and then 2.) regularly and vigorously training our respiration and 3.) bringing our attention and focus to our breath, we can experience amazing gains in our health and wellbeing. Don’t take my word , try it and see.
I have a great friend and a beautiful person who is suffering from mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the lungs. He has been courageously committed to a cure and continues to battle. However, when I sit with him it is clear that every breath, he attempts is a struggle, is an effort – the idea of an easy breath- a restorative or powerful breath would be an absolute joy for him. We, for the most part have that. Let us bring our attention and practice the beautiful art of breathing.
In health,Dr. Steve
See attached video for demonstration.
What I shared are only three areas that I’ve discovered. there is so much more out there, as always, I invite you to research and discover your what works for you –and then share with me!
James Nestor, "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art"
Wim Hof, "The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential"
Stig Avall Severinsen, Breatheology: The Art of Conscious Breathing