"When we hold the breath it is an unconscious attempt to refuse or control our experience." "Unless our breathing pattern is caused by a health problem, almost always this holding of the breath represents an unconscious desire for certainty. We hold on to life, and in a sense we hold out on life. And then, of course, life holds out on us. " - Donna Farhi from "Bringing Yoga to Life"
How often do you hold your breath? I'll bet, if you observe your breathing for the next 24 hours, you'll notice that you hold your breath in response to situations, thoughts, and emotions. So often, this holding of the breath is a sign of our resistance towards the present moment. We know that breathing changes according to stress levels and emotions. When we experience unpleasant feelings our breath becomes shallow, more rapid or we simply hold the breath. When we are calm, relaxed, happy, contented, our breath becomes more relaxed, deeper and slower. It's as if we know we have the time to fully inhale and fully exhale, and so there's no rush.
By observing the breath, you can become attuned to your inner thoughts and feelings. When your breath becomes tense or erratic, it's often information that something's not right, or your thoughts have become negative. By practicing deep breathing in these moments, you can re-wire yourself to react calmly in times of stress. You can build your resilience to adversity, pressure, and stress. By gaining control of your breath, you can gain control of your emotions, still acknowledging and honoring what arises without giving it power over you. Below are 3 simple steps towards putting the power of pranayama (the practice of controlling the breath) into practice:
- Observe your breath. You can't change what you're not aware of, so for the next week or so, just observe your breathing pattens without even trying to change them. Just be curious about when you hold your breath, when you breath deeply, and when your breath becomes more erratic.
- Take deep breaths. When you notice erratic breath, holding of the breath, shallow breathing, or even just tension in the body, consciously and mindfully take deep slow breaths in and out through the nose. Take the time to fully inhale, and fully exhale.
- Develop a breathwork practice. Every time you practice something, you get better at it, so developing a regular breathwork practice can be monumental in helping you to gain control over your breath. This could be as simple as consciously breathing while practicing yoga. You could even formalize your practice by setting aside 3-10 minutes on a regular basis to practice breathing techniques. For more info on specific breathing techniques check out my post on 4 breathing techniques to lower anxiety in under a minute here.
Remember, there's so much information to be gained by observing our breath, and there's so much power to be gained by learning how to control it. Happy breathing everyone.