If there is one thing I have been the most fascinated by this past year, it is breath.
Our breath is everything. When we are exasperated, we sigh. During childbirth, we sharply exhale to dissipate pain. Before publicly speaking, we take a “few calming breaths.” When we are stressed, our breath becomes short.
Breath is often referred to as Prana which means “life-force.” And it is exactly that.
When we are in the womb, our mother does the breathing for us. When we are born, we are severed from the umbilical cord which was our lifeline for nine months. We engage in our first breath, our new life-force.
Breathing is the only function in the body that is both a voluntary and an involuntary action. We can consciously alter our breath at will and if we stop paying attention…do not fear! Your breath will continue to flow involuntarily…unconsciously. How amazing is that?
Ancient sages discovered that channeling this vital life force through us could have many benefits. Calming, rejuvenating and uplifting the mind. Preparing the body to dive deep into meditation. Diving deeper to source and connecting with our higher self.
To give you the more "nerdy", scientifically backed stats - breathing effects the automatic nervous system. Broken into two parts; the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. To put this in simpler terms, sympathetic is our stress response or “fight or flight.” It is emergency shut down mode. Parasympathetic is a restorative response also known as “rest and digest” or my favorite, “pause and plan.”
Both systems are extremely important to the body’s function. If we see a lion in the middle of the street (because that happens often…) the activation of the sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight” is imperative. The problem comes when there is a lack of balance in both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
For example, if our body is in a stress response (sympathetic) bringing an imbalance to the system, adrenaline and cortisol are pumping into the body, heart rate and blood pressure increases, respiratory rate increases, digestion is impaired, and the blood flow to organs decreases. AH!
In the Parasympathetic or "pause and plan", our body has time to rest and heal. To maintain, regulate and calm. Pretty much the opposite of everything listed for the sympathetic.
With the nature of today’s world, many of us have an imbalance, relying too much on the sympathetic nervous system or our “fight or flight” response described. This is where our good friend yoga comes in to teach us breathwork. Breathwork or “Pranayama” will voluntarily bring us back to balance and engage the parasympathetic nervous system.
Mindful complete breathing is an incredible practice not only to cultivate stress resilience and bring our automatic nervous system back into balance (scientifically), but it also ties us to the present moment.
Conscious, full breaths, draw us back into the present. You may hear in yoga or meditation class, “bring yourself back to the breath.” This is a cue. When the mind wanders, (which it will do…we are human), use the breath to draw yourself back. To focus on the here and now.
As I began this fascination…this love affair with the breath, I began to pay close attention to the ebbs and flows of my own breath. As I continue practicing “drawing myself back to the breath,” I have created a stronger connection to the present moment, finding beauty in many of life's seemingly mundane tasks. Savory relationships, holding connections closer to my heart. I have cultivated more patience, more of an appreciation for the occasional pause in life. Most importantly, I have found a significant decrease in my stress and anxiety levels.
Yes, life is hectic! We work, spend time with friends, family, hold responsibilities and hobbies. Often it seems hard to find a moment to pause. However, all it takes is a bit of attention, awareness and like anything else…practice.
The next time you are in a conversation, take note, are you breathing? Are you truly present? Relaxed? Without judgment, bring an awareness to the breath. The next time you are eating, pause. Take a deep breath. Are you engaging in a compassionate relationship with food? Are you tasting every flavor? Texture? Sending gratitude to all the people who made the simple act of putting this food in your mouth possible?
Maybe beginning with just once a day. Practicing one mindful breath a day. Then letting it grow...expanding consciousness as you expand deeper into breath.
Flip the switch to conscious breathing. When we exhale what is unwanted, we take in what we need. Sit back and breathe, breathe, breathe.