How are you breathing?

claire

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mws_254Have you ever taken a moment to just sit and observe your breath? The way the body inhales and exhales? Is the inhale longer than the exhale or vice versa? Where does the breath begin?  “First, take a deep breath,” I usually say to my sisters and friends when they start to get stressed. My sisters find it annoying saying, “it doesn’t always help just to take a deep breath.” Yet, they admit feeling better after doing so. Pranayama (breath-work) practices can deeply impact your overall stress levels. Breathing exercises have been shown to help cancer patients because it strengthens the nervous system and calms anxiety.


Most people in our society breathe through their upper chest. This activates the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the stress response. It turns on the fight-or-flight mode, which makes it seem as if you are being chased by a bear running for dear life. Try breathing through your belly instead of your chest. Do you feel a difference in your emotional state when you do this breath vs. a breath through your chest?


Try hunching your spine and take a deep breath in through your nose. This is a frequent pattern found in our society as we are confined to a chair most of the day. Now, sit up tall and take a deep breath in through your nose like this. Is one easier, fuller, deeper than the other?


Place your hands on the base of your belly either sitting upright or on your back. On the inhale, feel your belly expand into your hands like you are inflating a balloon. Exhale, let the belly fall. Notice if your shoulders are shrugged up toward your ears. Relax them. Place your hands on your low ribs. Take a deep breath in, expanding outward with your ribs. Exhale, release. Unclench your jaw. Let your tongue fall away from the roof of your mouth. Now, place your hands on your chest. Feel your inhale move your chest upward. Exhale, let it go. Tie this entire practice together. Take a deep breath in through your nose, let it fill up your belly, ribs, then chest. Exhale chest, ribs, belly. Continue this for about 5-10 deep breaths. Try to elongate the length of each inhale and exhale. How do you feel?


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