Breathing. It’s the most natural motion in the world. We do it without thinking about it, and of course, stating the absolute obvious, we must do it to survive. And yet, if you get really conscious with your breath throughout the day, you will no doubt experience multiple periods where you are in fact holding your breath.
Sometimes I notice it, but usually only after the fact. My chest tightens, and I find myself gasping for air, like I am going under water and am desperate to take one last breath before I submerge.
Often it’s when I’m working. Other times it’s when I should be at my most calm and serene, like when I’m floating in the ocean. I should be relaxed, and there I am holding my breath. I clench my teeth and constrict my chest and leave it filled with stale air, almost afraid to exhale. And then, gasp, trying to inhale as sharply as possible to fill the void.
I know better of course. I practice yoga. I’m trained to teach. I do daily pranayama, yogic breathing practice. But we all get tense, busy, and our breath gets short, sharp, high up in our chest, or held all together. It can add significantly to your stress levels, and can leave you feeling more anxious and overwhelmed than you would normally be if you were breathing well.
Try this: inhale through your nose for the count of four; hold your breath for the count of four; exhale slowly for the count of four; hold it out for the count of four. That’s the four part yogic breath, and it can change your relationship with your body.
And this: breath in through your nose, and consciously take that breath deep into your belly. Feel your belly expand, and softly fall, with each breath. If you feel the breath coming straight into your chest, observe it for a few breaths, and then without stressing, gently guide your breath down further into your belly. Over time, this will become your natural way of breathing. And being.
Breathing with intention (what yogis call Pranayama practice), with consciousness, can significantly reduce your stress and bring more energy, ease and calm into your life.