February 8, 2021

The Power of Mindful Breathing

How mindful breathing can revolutionize your life.

Did you ever hear of the quote "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it" by Charles R. Swindoll? When you feel overwhelmed or stressed, does your breathing become shallow? Do you feel like you just can't catch your breath? Becoming aware of your breathing will help your nervous respond in a way the body will appreciate.

It took me over 30 of my 51 years on this earth, to realize my breath would become shallow when I became anxious or stressed. I would take a deep breath, or so I thought I was, but felt like I could not fully feel the relief I was searching for. The funny part was I didn't know what that relief was supposed to feel like, until I began my journey into breath work and a mindfulness practice about 5 years ago. While I am no expert, I can tell you, once I learned what it felt like to take a full breath, the sense of relief my nervous system experienced was one of bliss.

Mindful breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system to reset and rejuvenate your brain. This one, simple choice has the power to activate all repair and healing function in the body. This is not hyperbole. Our body is constantly sensing our environment for cues and clues about the status of our world. Our breathing pattern is a powerful piece of data for the brain because we are doing it constantly. If our breathing tends to be shallow, frequent, with a focus on inhalation and short, quick exhalation, the body knows we are stressed. This serves us by promoting the flight, fight, and hide response for survival. But it does not promote healing and vitality. Only when we are relaxed, feel safe, and at ease is our breath able to deepen, slow, and allow long steady exhalations with pauses between breaths. The body knows the truth. Think about what a new born sleeping baby looks like when they are sleeping. Their abdomen slowly fills and then slowly deflates as they breathe.

Here is how you can try to experience the power of mindful breathing.

Prioritize taking a short pause during a busy time of your day. Take a full 5 minutes just for your care. Yes, 5 minutes is all it takes. Set aside all other priorities and activities. Sit somewhere comfortable, where you won't be disturbed. For me that is the first thing in the morning before everyone else in the household, including the dog, needs my attention. Consider using earplugs or a headset if it helps you to focus away from ambient sounds/noise.

Aim to focus fully on nothing but the simplicity of your mindful breathing for a full 5 minutes. Turn off your phone for a full 5 minutes, or put the phone in do-not-disturb setting. You can set a timer on the phone on the vibration-only setting.

Close your mouth softly. If you wish, touch your tongue tip lightly on the roof of your mouth just behind your top front teeth. This signals the amygdala, at the base of the brain, to relax and not react to a perceived threat. Now breathe through your nose. Feel the cool air come in at the nostrils. Feel the body expand. Feel the warmth of your breath leave the body. Be patient. Relax into it. Allow the breath to deepen. Don't rush or force it. Let the breath flow on its own. With ease.

As you begin to relax, close your eyes and take a minute to scan your body lovingly. Relax any taut muscles. Relax your belly. Relax your anus. Sit up straight. But allow your shoulders to relax and lower. Feel your muscles become heavy. Visualize the breath entering the top of your head, as it travels throughout your body to the soles of your feet.

Realize gently that you are alive. You are a blessing. In this very moment, there is no where to go, nothing to do. Just be with the breath. Just one breath at a time.

How do you feel now?

There are many effective patterns and practices for Mindful Breathing. None are optimal. Find what you feel works best for you, in that moment.

You may enjoy exploring a variety of approaches.

Realize gently that you may choose this freedom to refocus and reset at any time. As often as you desire. As a daily, mindful practice. And as needed during any stressful time.

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