The Secret of the Breath
We experience a miracle every morning that we wake. As we sleep, without any conscious effort on our part, we continue to breathe. This is one of the beautiful mysteries of life and one of the scientifically proven connections between humanity and all other living things—everything breathes. Without the carbon dioxide we exhale, the plant world would not survive and without the oxygen created by plants, humanity would perish.
This delicate balance is preserved daily. If we, as conscious humans, would only choose to pay more attention to our breath, its patterns and habits, we could increase our oxygen intake and carbon dioxide release, benefiting and improving ourselves and the world around us.
Our respiratory system is labeled as an “involuntary organ system” by Western medicine, meaning: we don’t need to consciously control our breathing for it to continue. What we are not taught is that our breath is directly connected to our nervous system. By consciously controlling our breathing, we can control our nervous system, thereby directly affecting all other systems in our body.
There are two parts to our nervous system: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. When we inhale, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, causing our body temperature and muscle tone to increase, our heart rates— and possible our stress levels—to rise. When we exhale, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, decreasing our heart rate, muscle tone, blood pressure and body temperature, and our stress levels may go down. This is another example of nature’s perfect balance.
These two systems should take turns controlling the body every one to three hours. If this happens, the body can maintain homeostasis, a state of equilibrium. All living organisms on our planet strive for homeostasis, where our systems work most efficiently with the least amount of effort. Unfortunately, because of man’s multi-tasking and high anxiety lifestyles, we are often unable to keep this balance.
Our breath is affected by our emotions, thoughts and life experiences. Because we have not been taught how to control our breath, this has lead to deeply rooted habits of unhealthy breathing patterns. There are four main “unhealthy habits” we may find in our breathing including noisy, forced breathing; shallow breathing; jerky/hesitating breaths; and pausing between inhale and exhale. These habits can cause us to be stressed if we breathe this way and/or we will begin breathing this way when stressed. We can’t get rid of many of our stressors, but we can improve the quality of our breathing on a daily basis.
Unhealthy breathing habits are formed unconsciously through many years of not paying attention to our breathing. Noisy breathing causes us to force our breath through the throat and sinus cavities, which makes us work harder than necessary to breathe. Shallow breathing does not allow us to fill our lungs to capacity, decreasing our blood-oxygen levels, leaving us susceptible to many illnesses and disease. Jerkiness and hesitation in the breath puts stress on the nervous system, negatively affecting all other systems. Pausing between breaths stops all organ function momentarily, like many small deaths. This is why our nervous system cannot uphold the necessary balance the body needs to thrive. Imagine the effects of many years of this sort of stressful breathing. We are suffering as a community with so many stress-related illnesses and trauma, but we can heal! We can support ourselves and improve not only the state of our organ functioning, but also our entire beings by practicing what the ancient sages refer to as “
The Serene or Refined Breath.”
Silent Breathing - Relax the back of the tongue away from the roof of the mouth and breath along the bridge of the nose to eliminate noise.
Deep Breathing - Patiently wait until the lungs are full before exhaling. Finish the exhale before inhaling. You will be surprised how much deeper you can breathe.
Smooth Breathing - Eliminate jerkiness and hesitation in the breath, paying no attention to the distracting thoughts and emotions accompanying these disruptions.
Don’t Pause - Be mindful of the transition between breaths. With practice you will find a way to breath continuously. The breath will begin to move naturally like a wave in and out of the body.
Only when our breathing is functioning at its highest potential will our minds follow suit. Only when our minds are clear, open and functioning at their highest potential will our lives become what we’ve dreamt them to be.
Registered Yoga Teacher, Christi A. Rutkowski is a spiritual energy healer and has been teaching Raja yoga in the Himalayan tradition for 11 years. She is the founder of Quiet Heart Yoga, Fitness and Holistic Health, located at 5531 Hamilton Blvd., Unit 7 in Lower Macungie. Call 484-515-8356 or visit QuietHeartYoga.com for more information.