Observing the breath properly creates depth and subtlety in your meditation practice. There are several reasons that it’s one of the fundamental tools for reaching a highly focused state of mind.
Our state of mind is linked in many ways to our physiological processes. Our physiology is largely interconnected and breath control extends to several areas within the mind/body system. Much of this occurs due to the link between your breathing, the sympathetic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system. Both systems are a division of the autonomic nervous system which functions primarily below the level of consciousness.
The parasympathetic nervous system controls the “rest and digest” system. It operates opposite of the sympathetic nervous system which activates during times of stress, and is responsible for our “fight or flight” responses. These systems complement each other, and breathing exercises will help restore balance between the two.
If you would like to confirm this for yourself, then simply notice your breathing when you are in different states of mind. When you are upset it’s easy to notice that your breathing tends to be fast paced and shallow. Do you think it’s possible to be angry if you’re breathing deeply and calmly? Also, before you fall to sleep at night you can notice that tension within the body causes uneasy breathing, and will disrupt the process of relaxation before sleep.
If you would like to induce a peaceful state of mind, then practicing breathing techniques can act as a simple method to reaching these desired states.
Caution: Before engaging in any of the practices described on this website, please consult your physician or other health care professional to determine if these exercises are safe for you. The breathing techniques described on this page may cause difficulties with breathing if they are not practiced under the guidance of a professional practitioner. If you feel any discomfort or other difficulties associated with this practice, discontinue these breathing methods at once, and seek the attention of a health professional. For full usage rights, please read the disclaimer provided here.
One of my favorite techniques, because of it’s simplicity and effectiveness, is called belly breathing. Belly breathing may also be called diaphragmatic breathing because it focuses on the proper use of the diaphragm muscle to control breathing. This technique can be used anywhere at anytime and is very useful for calming a restless mind and quickly dampening stress or anxiety.
The action of focusing awareness on the breath aligns the intentions of the body and the mind. The basis of Belly breathing is to consciously focus on breathing deeply and smoothly rather than the shallow uneven breathing we may be used to. We do this by becoming aware of the muscles and movement within our body as we breath.
Please take a moment to do this simple exercise and notice the difference. Take a deep breath in a way that you normally would. Did you notice how your upper body expands out and moves up? When we normally inhale we tend to do so by expanding our ribs and puffing up our chest. This method limits the air we intake and the area of our lungs which are used. It also causes tension to build in the shoulders and upper back because we are unaware that we are also using these muscles.
Belly breathing draws breath deeper into the lungs, and utilizes the proper muscles to do so. This not only reduces tension in the upper torso, but also increases the amount of oxygen provided to the body.
To do the belly breathing technique it is best to practice this for the first time while sitting. This way you can focus your thoughts on your breath while not worrying about balance.
Please find a comfortable place to sit and follow these steps:
- Sit up straight. Tuck your chin back and make sure the top of your head and neck are aligned with the spine. Imagine there is a beam of energy extending from the top of your head to the base of your spine that you want to keep straight. This will ensure that air flows freely through the trachea and also relaxes the throat and neck.
- Relax the body.
- Now place one hand on your chest, and the other at or just below the navel. (it doesn’t matter which hand, use whatever is most comfortable to you)
- Now, inhale through your nose and as you breath imagine that your stomach is a ballon or a basketball that you are trying to inflate. If that doesn’t work then think of a string attached to your navel that is being pulled outward when you inhale.
- Exhale slowly and fully through the nose. Your stomach should retract and empty almost all of the air from your lungs.
- Notice where your breath is now going. It should be going deeper into your lungs and moving lower in your body.
- Take note of how much you are still expanding your ribs and upper body. If you are still using them, then you should relax those muscles. They are not needed for this type of breath.
- Repeat the breath until you feel your stomach expanding more than your chest and ribs.
Here is a quick demonstration of standing belly breathing.
As you become more comfortable with this technique you will find that it can be done lying down or standing up as well. It’s good to focus on this type of breathing at least twice a day until it becomes your normal breathing technique. I would recommend at least ten breaths in the morning just after waking, and ten breaths in the evening before you go to sleep.
If you would like to learn how to go about creating a smooth rhythm to your breathing then continue on to the next part in this article.
Breath with Mantra
The video below utilizes a mantra to produce a natural and rhythmic breathing pattern. This breathing technique will help relax, focus and energize the body and mind. I recommend utilizing the belly breathing technique (or diaphragmatic breathing) with this mantra to get the most out of the exercise.
You will notice as you follow the mantra that you automatically fall into a very smooth breathing pattern. This natural flow will synchronize the mind and the body producing a hum of energy and positive vibrations.
You may want to stick with this mantra for now, and adopt another one for your regular mantra mediation. I will cover mantras in another article, but for now this mantra will prove to be very helpful.
As you breath with the mantra, repeat the sounds in your head. This will keep your mind from wandering and allow you to focus on your breath. This will also prepare you for future mantra meditation when you wish to repeat your chosen mantra internally. Breath in to the sound of “So”, exhale to the sound of “Hum”.
Did you repeat the mantra in your head? It’s easy to become distracted and think that the audio is going to do all the work for you. Gently remind yourself that you must retain focus on the mantra and breath. This concentration will bring your mind into the present moment, and help increase your awareness.
These two breathing techniques will provide a good starting point for future breath work. Please follow along with the second part of this article to learn more highly effective breathing techniques. Please remember to use caution when working with these methods, and be sure to consult a health professional if you are having any difficulty with your breathing.
In the next part of this article I will cover breathing techniques to develop and cultivate your internal energy. Before moving on to these methods, be sure that you are first comfortable with belly breathing. Understanding how the breath work affects your mental state is important for knowing which method to use.
I hope you enjoyed this article and will check back soon. If there are other techniques which you would like me to write about please feel free to email me from the contact page.
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