Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Breath

breath haiku

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. Thich Nhat Hanh

How often do you stop to think about your breath, about the function it serves? Typing that sentence makes me take a deep breath!

It’s worth giving some attention to this vital function as the breath can be utilised to improve your life; conscious breathing benefits us on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Awareness of breath is powerful and can be transformational.

On a physical level, conscious breathing ensures that sufficient oxygen is delivered to all of the cells in your body, helping to optimise its performance. Breath is also the key to relaxation as it is an effective way to quiet the mind; focusing on the breath creates space, allowing you be present in the moment and letting worries drift away. This, in turn, soothes the emotions; healthier and cheaper than any tranquilliser!

On a spiritual level, breath is life-force itself. Let that truth sink in.

Rushing around, getting stressed out and anxious about daily chores can lead to shallow breathing which is detrimental to wellbeing. Turn off your auto-pilot and take a moment now to notice your breathing; is it short and shallow, reaching only as far as your upper chest? Or is it slow and deep, reaching all the way down into your belly?

Something in us is telling us we’re moving too fast, at a pace dictated to by machines rather than by anything human, and that unless we take conscious measures, we’ll permanently be out of breath. Do Pico Iyer’s words ring true for you?

Try breathing slowly and deeply, without trying to force anything. Relax your diaphragm, allowing the air to reach the very bottom of your lungs, using them to their fullest capacity. Noticing the sound and rhythm of each breath, focus on each one moving in and out of your body. Follow the passage of the air through your nose, down your throat and into your belly, filling up your lungs from the belly upwards. Hold the breath for a second, then release from the top of the chest, slowly letting out the air, gently squeezing in your stomach to expel the entire breath. Relax into your breath; with practice it becomes soothing, calming and also revitalising.

Be with your breath, which, as Amit Ray points out is the finest gift of nature. Be grateful for this wonderful gift.

When I was in the clutches of PTSD (although I wasn’t aware I was suffering from it at the time), I’d feel an urge to be still, to just breathe. Writing in my journal, I’d find myself taking deep, sighing breaths which I now understand were my body’s way of letting go of stress. My body knew what it needed to heal.

Years of strain left me exhausted and in chronic pain; furthermore, once I’d had sufficient CBT to release myself from the stranglehold of post-traumatic stress I was left with a legacy of deep-rooted and debilitating anxiety. Breath again came to my rescue – committing to mindfulness practice, and checking regularly throughout the day on my breathing, eventually decreased the constant pain I was in and enabled me to rid myself of the anxiety symptoms, rather than being at their mercy.

Breath is truly remarkable. Consider:

All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man… the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. Chief Seattle

Breathing is our participation with the cosmic dance. When our breath is in harmony, cosmos nourishes us in every sense. Amit Ray

I don’t know about you but I find both of those ideas amazing, although I also sense their inherent truth.

Make time for your breath and let it gently restore balance to your being, reconnecting you with your essence and promoting a more peaceful, harmonious life.

4 thoughts on “Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Breath

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