Breathing — it’s something I never really paid attention too, I disregarded it as something our bodies just “do”.
Yet, to my surprise, a few years ago, when I began my meditation journey — I noticed one thing that was ubiquitous to all the guides.
Concentration on breath.
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
I discovered that there are actually as many ways to breathe as there are foods to eat. And each way we breathe affects our bodies in different ways.
We tend to “over-breathe”.
What’s considered normal today is anywhere between a 12 and 20 breaths a minute, with an average intake of about 0.5 litres or more of air per breath. For those on the high end of respiratory rates, that’s about twice at much as it used to be. Breathing too much can raise blood pressure, overwork the heart and lull our nervous systems into a state of stress.
For the body to function as peak efficiency we need to breathe as closely in-line with our metabolic needs as possible. For the majority of us that means breathing less.
But that’s harder than it sounds.
We’ve become conditioned to breathe too much, just as we’ve been conditioned to eat too much. With some effort and training, however, breathing less can become an unconscious habit.
For me, the perfect breath is this:
Inhale for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale for 5.5 seconds. That’s 5.5 breaths a minute for a total of about 5.5 litres of air.
You can practise this perfect breathing for a few minutes, or a few hours. When we breathe like this, breathing practitioners suggest that circulation in the brain and body will increase while the burden on the heart decreases. All the while the diaphragm will drop lower and rise higher, allowing more air to enter the lungs and assisting in pushing blood throughout the body. For this reason, the diaphragm is sometimes referred to as “the second heart”, because it not only beats to its own rhythm but also affects the rate and strength of the heartbeat.
Some of the subtle things I’ve noticed and appreciate when focusing on my breath:
It’s anchored in the present moment
The breath always offers an opportunity to establish a felt connection with what is happening right here and right now. If your mind is truly focused on breathing, it’s impossible to simultaneously ruminate about the past or daydream about the future, which research has shown often leads to feelings of anxiety and unhappiness. A grounding into the present moment allows us to feel more joyful and in sync with the world around us, and the breath is the best tool to get there.
It’s always available
From the moment you’re born until the moment you die, you should have breath. In a way, meditation is the art of developing a relationship with your breath that invites forward the qualities of balance, focus, and peace of mind. In doing so, your breath can become your superhero, jumping in to save the day when your mind is struck with negativity.
Your breath is your brain’s remote control
There is a direct and well-studied biochemical relationship between your breath and your brain. By placing your focus on your breath, you can manually hack your brain to create altered states of consciousness. It’s fascinating when you think about it. Just by consciously choosing to direct your awareness to your inhales and exhales (which is always happening anyway), you can actually flip the switch of your brain’s circuitry to shift from the Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight or Flight) to the Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest and Digest).
It’s your mental signpost
Another intriguing discovery meditators often come to is that the way we breath in any moment is a striking reflection of the way our minds are behaving. If you find that your breath is shallow, fast, and uneasy, chances are very high that your mind is feeling stressed out (as is the case when you’re feeling scared or frustrated). Next time you’re having an argument or feel anxious about an upcoming deadline, notice what your breath looks like and you’ll likely find that there’s an asymmetry to its natural flow. The opposite is just as true. If your breathing is slow, easy, and deliberate, your mind is likely nice and settled (as when you’re reading a good book or listening to gentle music). Pay attention to how fluidly your breath flows the next time you’re feeling super relaxed.
This was the ninth post in my latest challenge to write daily. I’m working on developing my communication skills, and making my writing more personable, and enjoyable for anyone who takes the time to read. If you made it to the end, thank you for spending the time!16