April 10

Your breath matters

The room was full of people, sitting, lying and a few moving around on their mats. Some were wailing, some crying, others laughing and yet others in a state of deep trans with their eyes rolled slightly inwards. The shaman cruised slowly through the room murmuring ancient chants and undistinguishable mantras, interrupted only by the occasional mysterious hand signal towards one of the participants. Every now and then he glanced at me to make sure I was still cleansing the room with the oversized clary sage bundle he had handed me earlier whilst encouraging all participants to keep breathing – without pause, no matter what. If there was a smell for deep-rooted emotions, perhaps even trauma, being released, it would have been present.

Whilst this kind of shamanic breath practices might seem intense or even incredulous to some, there is no denying that breath not only can but does influence our experience of daily life. Just using your human awareness, take note of how you are breathing right now. And how is your body and mind reacting to the quality of your breath? If you are relaxed and at ease, likely you’ll notice your breaths long and deep and your belly moving with them. If you are reading this as a distraction from your latest argument with your boss, partner, or child, you will probably notice a short and tense breath rhythm. You might even be holding the breath in with your shoulders tensed up to the ears. Or giving one more example to reflect on: Have you ever been angry whilst exhaling fully and pausing between breaths? It’s impossible!

Science has been intriguingly investigating the breath-body-mind connection which to ancient yogis has long been understood as the bridge between the conscious and unconscious. Linked to our parasympathetic nervous system, the regulation of breath by the brain stem is mostly unconscious. It serves to maintain homeostasis, the state of optimal balance for all systems in the body. Whereas the regulation of the breath by the limbic system generates emotional repercussions. The way we breathe changes our emotions, and our emotions change the way we breathe. Our higher cognitive centres of the cerebral cortex give us the ability to consciously influence our breath influencing the intricate body-breath-mind correlation essential to synchronize metabolism and many other physiological and energetic parameters.

Let’s also have a look at ancient wisdom from yoga and tantra traditions that emerged from the Indus Valley thousands of years ago: Did you know that breathing less, aka slower and longer breaths, can reduce your appetite? Also, you may or may not be aware that your breath is either right or left nostril dominated. It changes approximately every 90 minutes and influences which side of your brain is more active. With this awareness, you can get your accounts and taxes done much more efficiently using the time when the left nostril, linked to the logical side of the brain dominates. On the other hand, when the right nostril activates your creative and empathetic brain half, it could be a great time to paint with your children, apologize to your partner or even rethink your website design in a creative way.

So far we have looked into some simple ways of making your breath your best friend in daily life. Beyond that, you can take it much deeper transforming the simple exchange of carbon dioxide to oxygen into one of the most powerful healing tools. Step one is becoming aware of the breath. Step two is consciously influencing the breath in a specific way that triggers a healing response in the body. It’s like shaking up stuck patterns. This can shine light on anxiety, depression, stress, unhelpful habits and self-destructive believes and convert them into inspiring possibilities of change and growth, inner peace and sustained joy. The best about it all, that power lies within you. Once you understand a few basic breathing tools, you can access this potent, natural, internal and integrated medicine any time. For instance, right in this moment. So, how are you breathing now?

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