By Donna Gates, as seen on:
The movement of breath in and out of the body is often overlooked and taken for granted. And yet, how we breathe affects our physical, mental, and energetic health.
Breath can be a source of power, confidence, and longevity.
As it turns out, more than one ancient culture has linked breath with life force.
In The Bible, we are told that God breathed the breath of life into clay and created a living soul.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional form of healing from India, breath moves life force (or prana) throughout the body. Breathing practices that control the breath are used as a way to enhance mental clarity, physical health, and longevity.
The qi in Chinese medicine refers to an energetic life force that can be moved through the body with breath. Martial arts and ancient Chinese movement exercises like qi gong and tai qi all incorporate controlled breathing with physical movement.
Unfortunately, these days it is so easy to forget about the value of breath.
Hunched over computers, navigating through traffic, and jobs that require us to sit for most of the day can all negatively influence how we breathe.
We end up breathing with our chest. When breath is shallow, our shoulders become tight and breath becomes shorter and more rapid.
This is the sort of breathing that should happen only when are in a life-threatening situation and when stress hormones are telling us to flee.
Quick, shallow breaths make the body acidic. It can contribute to nervous tension, anxiety and depression.
When we breathe deeply, we give ourselves the opportunity to inhale life.
And as we exhale, we let go.
While each exhale allows us to let go of a physical waste product called carbon dioxide, we also have the ability to release much more with breath. We can let go of all hurts, failures and mistakes.
Using our breath, we can practice forgiveness.
The ability to let go—or give—is just as important as the ability to take in and receive. In other words, the exhale matters as much as the inhale.
Belly breathing or diaphragm breathing is a good way to remember the value of breath. It is the opposite of shallow, short breaths.
In order to get into the habit of belly breathing, you can make a conscious effort to practice it.
Try this now:
- Begin by gently placing the palms of your hands beneath your belly button. Notice your breath.
- As you inhale through your nose, you may feel your belly expand. If your belly moves little, your breath may be too shallow. Encourage yourself to inhale deeply.
- As you exhale, allow the breath to exit through the nose instead of the mouth.
- Feel your expanded belly beneath your palms and let it grow with the inhalation, rather than shrink. At first, the sensation may feel strange. But after a while, belly breathing may become something that can help you move easily through stressful life situations.
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