Why Bother Noticing Your Breath?
In one word, how would you answer this question, “Life is about…?” You might say, life is about eating well. Life is about loving others. Life is about getting out and doing the things you love on a regular basis. I would agree that life is about all those things. But I can answer that question with just one word, breath. Life is about breath because without breath, there is no life.
The act of breathing came naturally to all of us. A few seconds after leaving our mother’s womb, we took our first gulp of air and filled our lungs. Ever since then, we have been breathing automatically and without thinking too much about it. Yet, maybe we need to become a little more conscientious of our breathing, and of the quality of our breath.
We breathe differently depending on our activity. When swimming, I breathe every third stroke, holding my breath for two. When running, my breath is quite shallow and rapid. Riding my bike on a flat road, my breathing becomes rhythmic, smooth and long, matching my pedal rotations.
While camping recently, I heard something walking near my tent in the middle of the night. Fear robbed me of taking in any air and I lost my breath completely. But fear is not the only thing that takes our breath away. Sometimes we forget to fill up our lungs. Unconsciously, we may hold our breath. Without thinking, we inhale shallow chest breaths and then wonder why we feel out of breath so much of the time.
Though we do not have to become yoga masters to master better breathing habits, practicing yoga awakened me to my way of breathing. I was a chest breather. Shallow breathing was all I knew. It kept me alive, but barely. Then, I learned how to breathe differently. It was an expansive experience, one that I continue to practice daily.
In our culture, we are taught to hold our bellies in, giving the false impression of a flat gut. Belly breathing, on the other hand, discards that false idea. Deep breaths require belly expansion. I cannot hold my gut in while filling up my lungs and torso with air. And since my lungs hold a lot of air, it takes a bit of work to fill them to capacity. But the benefits are worth the effort.
First of all, filling our lungs with air calms us. Slow deep breaths slow down our thinking as well as our heart rate. Also, since our cells run on oxygen, the more oxygen we send them, the greater the health of our cells. When we switch from chest breathing to belly breathing it can release the unconscious tension we hold in particular spots throughout our bodies. Whether we hold stress in our necks or shoulders or clench our jaw, taking a few deep breaths releases the tautness even if only for a moment or two. Next time you need a spurt of energy to finish a project, don’t reach for the caffeine infused beverage. Instead, take some expansive breaths. Oxygen is a free and natural way of boosting our energy and stamina. And so far, there is no shortage or monopoly on our air supply.
Why bother noticing your breath? It is worth noting how you breathe. Shallow breaths will keep you alive, but deeper breaths will expand your life.