I know I'll be writing many posts on the breath, hence, this first post is titled "Part 1." We all breathe every day, but how much of that is conscious? How often are you really paying attention to your breath? If you practice yoga, sing, play a musical instrument, or partake in any sport - you probably pay attention to your breath more than the average Joe, but, as for the "norm" - research shows that today's average person only uses 20% of their lung capacity in a given day. WOW.
"Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?" - Mary Oliver
Perhaps it really isn't clear to you WHY it is beneficial to breathe more. Over time I will share some of the insights I have on this... but know that a plethora of books on the subject have already been written, research scientifically proven, and even my breathwork teacher is currently writing her own book on the subject.
In short - BREATH IS LIFE. We need conscious, full breath cycles to maintain our health, our vitality, and aid in all the biological processes that make us human. We are walking miracles, and the respiratory cycle is just one aspect of that miracle. (Albeit arguably the most important and crucial aspect of our miraculous humanity!)
So today, I want to share with you a powerful breathing technique known as Box Breathing Technique. I highly recommend this for everyone - read on for why that is! Since I've been in Colorado, and adapting to the mile-high altitude compared to sea level living I'd had in Maryland, I've found this practice to be immensely helpful for many reasons: I can take fuller breaths, I feel less of the altitude sickness, I am less fatigued, and I overall feel more regulated. It's called Box Breathing for it's four equal parts, like a square. Keeping it simple, each part is 4 counts long (but you can make that longer or shorter as needed).
inhale to capacity for 4 counts
hold for 4 counts completely full
exhale to depletion for 4 counts
hold for 4 counts completely empty
When this is practiced, the body actually begins to feel the cellular oxygen starvation during the hold empty for 4 counts. The singular moment between count 4 of the hold empty and count 1 of the next inhale is filled with such a palpable sense of needing to receive oxygen! This fleeting moment is the moment of the phobic stir, which is our body's own fear or phobia at being without oxygen for too long that physiologically we are cued internally that we absolutely must take that next breath. That's what makes that next inhale so satisfying, and how our cells get a spike of oxygen uptake.
Our day-to-day running mind usually reminds us to breathe long before our body truly needs oxygen, and we're always hovering between breath in and breath out, never really full, never really empty. It's only when we practice breath retention in this way that we truly feel oxygen hunger or the phobic stir.
¿¡ Why would we even want to practice breath retention and feel oxygen hunger!? This is nervous system training and regulating! Each retention after exhale is followed by a full-on system flooding of oxygenated blood to the entire body. This aids in increasing and regulating Heart Rate Variability (another blog on this later!). When we practice breath retention, we're also able to manage anxiety and stress, severe asthma, panic disorders and more, all by training the body to know it is going to be okay during those holds with the slight induced fear and panic of holding the breath. Breath retention practices are recommended and useful techniques if you have an agitated mind or find it difficult to stay focused or feel calm during meditation too. And honestly, I can admit that the agitated mind is my own biggest obstacle! (Please note that this is only a sampling of some of the benefits to breath retention that I happen to choose to share.)
To practice this breath technique, I recommend building yourself a comfortable meditation seat, even if that's in a chair or with your back against a wall. One blog post in the future I'll also discuss the importance and the practice of sitting in meditation, and how to "sit well." Give this practice a solid 3 minutes minimum time, but preferably 7 minutes or more. It goes by quickly when your concentration is on the breath for so long! The longer you practice, the more regulated you may feel, but - just don't practice so long that you lose concentration. A shorter, purposeful sitting can be more effective than a longer, distracted sit! Set yourself up with a timer (I suggest Insight Timer for all the yoga and meditation and bodywork timing needs) so you don't need to check the clock or phone, and also to keep your devices off, away, or at least on airplane mode for no disturbances. A darker room will also aide in the withdrawal of the sense of sight, and that is useful in any meditative state - even breathwork. Before you begin the Box Breathing, I also recommend preparing with several rounds of long, smooth, steady breathing without any breath retention. Sometimes, the breath holds (especially after exhale), can be challenging to maintain if you haven't yet deepened your breath to begin with, breathing into all the spaces of the lungs: belly, ribs, and chest. After a few preparatory breaths, you're ready to do your several minutes of box breathing. To close, sit quietly and notice the changes in your breathing after this transformative practice. Sit as long as you like, breathing long and smooth without retention. Blink your eyes back open gently and take in your surroundings: this practice might bring you clarity, peace, joy, and inner satisfaction and love. Enjoy the state you're in! See how it impacts your day from here :)
So give this simple practice a try and after some consistent practice, tell me how it feels for you in the comments below! If it's a practice you've done before, I'd love to hear how you have used it in the past and what brings you back to this practice time and again.
Your feedback is super helpful for me!
With love and thanks,