(Originally published on MindBodyGreen.com)
You, my friend, are sitting on GOLD. You have a superpower that lies dormant but begs to be accessed: your breath. It may not sound sexy, but your breath is the most fundamental tool for living that you have.
When I first learned the breathing exercise below, I found it ironic that I had to be taught how to do something my body does naturally. But it’s actually not all that intuitive to breathe mindfully until you learn how.
When you're sleeping or not paying attention, your breath takes care of itself, which is pretty rad. But consciously directing your breath opens up a world of magic. A world where you become potent, present, awake and aware.
Here are five reasons to get to know your lungs:
1. You'll be open to the here and now.
Breathing only happens in the present, so whenever you mindfully tap into your breath you're automatically delivered into the elusive “here and now.” Breathing is a great way to stop negative thoughts from spiraling. Instead of worrying about the past or the future, breathing helps your mind become interested in the sensations of the body and the novelty of what "is."
2. You'll connect spiritually.
In yoga, the breath regulates and channels the flow of prana, or life force, in the subtle body. Because the breath is intangible, it connects us to what is intangible and unknowable in the universe. We can’t help but feel more interconnected and "part of the whole" when we're paying attention to our breath.
3. You'll calm your body.
When swept up in the daily stress of life, we tend to unconsciously restrict our breathing. Big problem. Shallow breathing puts us into survival mode, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (i.e. fight/flight/freeze), and dumping stress hormones into the body. Full abdominal breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. rest/relax/digest) and we can quickly become calm and relaxed.
4. You'll be more resilient during difficult times.
If you are experiencing a strong emotion, your breath can help you “surf” the feeling without becoming overwhelmed. Breathing makes the intolerable tolerable; the unbearable bearable. It supports us to go on, when we are certain we can't.
5. You'll become response-able.
If you get into an argument with a loved one, consciously breathing keeps you from being reactive by giving you some space from the feeling. This space then gives you leverage to respond to a difficult situation from the seat of higher consciousness.
Your breath does some epic shit, huh? It does much more than just keep you alive — if you let it.
The more fully you breathe the more fully you live.
Dirgha Breath, or Three-Part Breath Exercise:
Dirgha pranyama, or three-part breath, is borrowed from yoga and is an awesome basic breathing exercise. The three “parts” are belly, ribs and chest. It is designed to create a full exchange of oxygen in the body and calm the mind.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your spine elongated
- Gently close your eyes and relax your scalp, jaw and eyes
- On an inhale your belly softens and extends out, followed by your ribs expanding and finally your chest rising.
- On an exhale your chest sinks down, your ribs soften and come together and your abdomen flattens as pull your belly button inward.
- Again: Belly extending, ribs expanding, chest rising
Imagine a pitcher filling with water in the same way as the breath is filling your lungs: First water collects at the bottom (belly softens and opens), then fills the pitcher (ribs expanding and chest rising). On an exhale you tip the pitcher to spill the top of the water first (chest sinking down), then pouring the rest out.
Continue to breath in this way for 3-5 minutes and notice what you experience
Take a few minutes to try this now — your whole being will thank you. In the comments share what you observed. Happy breathing!