Taking a deep breath

Ahhh, the wonders of our breath. Over the last year I have rediscovered the power of taking long, slow, deep nasal breaths. How deeply relaxing and nourishing this is for our bodies. When I remember throughout the day to do this, I can feel my body actually reset, unwind a bit, and notice a restored mental clarity.

As a long-time meditator, I have spent a lot of time observing my breath as it has often been the anchor of my practice.  However, for the last several years, breath awareness has not been the focus of my spiritual practice and come to find out, my breath had become increasingly shallow over those years.  Recently, my breath has become the focus of my attention again, as a result of dealing with stress-related digestive issues.

Our breath is one of the ways we can detoxify, relax, and engage the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest, digest and repair mode of our functioning). When we don’t take the time to consciously shift from operating predominately from our sympathetic nervous system (the one in which we are functioning as if responding to an alarm in our environment) to our parasympathetic nervous system, we are signaling to our bodies that our internal resources need to be primarily available for flight, fight, or freezing.

What I have noticed is that more and more our culture has normalized living out of a low to medium level sympathetic nervous system activation. This level of alert/alarm is what we consider normal functioning and perhaps even preferable to our relaxed potential. I did not notice that over the years my breathing had become shallower and that I was spending less and less time in a deeply relaxed and at ease state.  I had normalized feeling pressure continuously from most areas of my life, even if it was simply my desire to organize my home life during a seasonal change, for instance. I increasingly even experienced my creative impulses as pressure, sensing a kind of “not enough time” pressure, a lot of the time!

Enter in digestive troubles. Ah yes, my body starting showing signs of too much distress.  I didn’t immediately recognize this as stress-induced, so I spent a lot of time researching what the underlying issue might be. And after nearly a year of that and many supplements and diet protocols later, I have come to see what a challenge to my body being unconsciously hyped up and chronically feeling under pressure has been.  This has been seriously humbling as a long-time meditator practicing self-awareness!

The most beneficial shift in my health has come from breath awareness, consciously relaxing, and changing my habitual response patterns through the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza which I will be writing more about.  I am using several breathing practices to give my body the “all is well” signal throughout the day.  When our body is in a state of alarm, digestion is not considered essential, so we don’t spend our internal resources on generating bile, digestive enzymes or HCl (hydrochloric acid), all of which are essential to healthy digestion, nutrient absorption, a happy microbiome, etc. The consequences of poor digestion can then lead to lymphatic congestion, less than optimal brain functioning, decreased liver function, and on and on!

And of course, a simple sitting meditation practice with your awareness on your breath can be deeply relaxing.

When we convey the “all is well” signal to our body, then our digestion can function optimally, we can take on repair projects like releasing inflammation, we can sleep better which has tremendous health benefits. All in all, we owe it to ourselves to find ways to give this signal to our bodies.

When we breathe deeply through our noses, we fill the lower lobes of the lungs, which stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. So this is a great anywhere, anytime practice that you can do when you remember.

If you can take time for a short breathing practice, try breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth as rapidly as is comfortable for a few minutes. This is highly oxygenating and alkalizing to the body (most diseases are the result of acidic conditions) and will also expand your lung capacity. You can try breathing in to the front, back and sides of your lungs, filling them deeply and all the way up.

We have a lovely book in the store called The Healing Power of the Breath by Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg that is all about the breath, which goes into details about the breath’s impact on our physiology and offers many simple practices to help build awareness and relaxation.

There are many relaxation tools available; the key is to utilize one or more that feel simple and accessible, as we want to use the path of least resistance to optimize our chances of regular practice.

Wishing you deep relaxation and joy!