Mindfulness Hack 3: Breathe, Baby, Breathe!

May 1, 2019

I often say, thank god I am not dolphin.

Dolphins are conscious breathers, meaning they have to actively decide when to breath. If that were my case, I would have been dead a long time ago. Even with my years of yoga practice - both as a practitioner and as a certified instructor - I still have to remind myself to breathe.  

As humans, we breath involuntarily. We don’t have to think, we don’t have to do anything special, and our incredible bodies just know what to do. On one hand I guess that makes us pretty lucky. But on the other hand, it also makes us super lazy and gives us an excuse to function unconsciously throughout each day. To really live life fully, to step into our potential, to live our dream, to give to the world the way we are meant to, we need to encourage our own kind of conscious breathing.

Conscious breathing has saved me from causing mass destruction and hurting those around me.

By stopping to take a few breaths before reacting, I have been able to clear my mind, release anger and frustration, and take a more compassionate approach to conflict.

Conscious breathing has also allowed me to dream, to make space for infinite possibilities, and to get out of the way to allow those visions to become reality.

Breathwork is a vitalizing force that provides regenerative healing for the body, and when practiced regularly is a powerful tool to gain control over the mind. Ancient eastern medicine is rooted in the belief that all illnesses are actually just a disturbance or confusion in the mind. Ancient cultures around the world have long recognized vital force (also known as chi, prana, Great Spirit) as the power or subtle energies within our bodies - energy we can control, increase, and manipulate in order to heal ourselves, heal others and our environments, and develop our highest selves. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And you know the best way to tap that? Conscious breathing.

Try This:

Here are some of my favorite breathing exercises:

Seated Counting Breath

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your spine long, shoulders relaxed, chest lifted, chin parallel to the ground, and crown of the head reaching upward so your neck is nice and long.
  • Close your eyes or find something steady and not distracting to gaze at. (I prefer to close my eyes because it really allows me to concentrate solely on my breath.)
  • Just start with an easy breath to get settled into this position. Notice what your body feels like, what the breath feels like moving in and out of your body.
  • Take a slow inhale, counting to 5 (or until you feel full).
  • Hold the breath at the top for a count of 3.
  • Slowly release the breath, pulling the belly button in as you exhale and push out all the breath. Match the count to your inhale - so if you counted to 5 on the inhale, count to 5 for the exhale.
  • Hold the breath at the bottom of the exhale for a count of 3.
  • Repeat as many times as possible.

Reclined Three Chamber Breathing

  • Lay on your back, knees bent and feet planted on the ground, or legs extend - whatever is most comfortable for you and your back.
  • Place your hands on your belly and breath into that space, feeling your hands rise and fall with your inhale and exhale. Belly expands with the inhale, like a balloon filling up with air. Belly deflates with the exhale, pulling belly button into the spine to push out all the breath.
  • Take several breaths in and out through the belly.
  • Then, leave one hand on your belly and bring the other hand up toward your side, palm resting on your lower ribs.
  • Breathe first into the belly and then extend the breath into the ribs, feeling the ribs expand as you bring in the fresh oxygen.
  • Exhale from the ribs then down into the belly, like an ocean wave rolling in and out.
  • Repeat for several breaths.
  • Then, leave your hand on your ribs and bring the other hand up to your chest, finger tips in toward the sternum and hand just below the clavicle or collarbone.
  • Breath in from the belly, bringing the breathe up through the ribs and then into the chest, feeling belly, ribs and chest expanding and lifting.
  • Exhale from the top down, feeling first the chest deflate, then the ribs and belly.
  • Repeat as many times as you can/like.
  • *This is a great place to do some visualization work - try visioning an ocean wave washing over and through you, cleansing toxins from your vital organs on the exhale, and bringing in fresh, clean and new breath with every inhale.

The Woo-Woo BONUS - Deep Heart Breath:

Whenever I am feeling confused about a decision I need to make, nervous or anxious about something coming up, or when I’m feeling really uncomfortable in my body, I stop what I am doing, close my eyes, and put all my concentration into my heart center. I breath in and out from this center, concentrating on the light emanating from this place or anything that might be blocking this light. I push the light out and know fully that I am connected to a Universal Truth, a Source Power that is always guiding me, and I know I can make no mistake when I trust in this source.

Sometimes, all it takes is 3-5 of these breaths and my nerves are calmed, the decision is clear, or I am tapped back into my body. This is a great practice to follow before you pick up the phone to call a potential client, have a difficult conversation that could easily go sour, or have to make an important claim, like giving your notice at work or accepting a new position!

For My Educators (and Parents, too!):

Early on in motherhood, someone wise told me that I always have time to take three breaths before I react. As a full time teacher,  relatively new mom with an infant and a toddler, and with a really terrible sense of what was important and what wasn’t, taking three breaths seemed impossible! I was a reactionary human being. How could I stop, take three breaths, and then react? The world would completely fall apart in that time, wouldn’t it?

Um, no. It wouldn’t.

The truth was, and this was exceptionally hard for me to accept, the world would NOT fall apart and there is ALWAYS time to take a breath, or three, or five.

I started practicing this three breath rule whenever I felt my blood boiling, like I was on the verge of losing my shit. I realized that my students, my family, my colleagues, the barista at my local coffee shop, the slow-ass driver driving in the fast lane in front of me - basically everyone I came in contact with - deserved to see a better side of me. And for the young ones in my life, they also deserved an opportunity to learn from their mistakes WITHOUT me hammering down on them and making them feel like shit in the process. All that does is close their door. And then I have to work ten times harder to reach them because I broke their trust and devalued them.

So when you feel like your at your wit’s end and you want to claw your face off, don’t. Just. Stop. Right where you are. Close your eyes. Take at least one. Slow. Breath. See if you can take two. Or three. Then open your eyes again. And see the world around you with a calmer perspective. And if you’re super savvy and bold, have the young ones around you practice it with you. Then you’ll REALLY see a change!

Do it! I dare you!! :)

Game Changer:

Into the Magic Shop by James R. Doty, MD tells the true story of a young boy’s discovery of magic and how it impacted the rest of his life. Magic, as he learns, begins with learning how to focus on his breath. I highly recommend this read - its both an honest reflection of a man’s journey through mistakes and triumphs as well as an instruction guide for tapping into your own magic.

Here’s a short video on the 4, 7, 8 breathing technique. Pushing Beauty has a TON of videos with different techniques to work a variety of issues, from anxiety, to money consciousness, to being single. You should check it out!

This is a great instructional video on alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama - an excellent breathing technique to balance out the energies of the body.

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