Take a Deep Breath . . .
Breathing—we all do it, from the day we are born until the day our body expires. Your breath carries the life force, called Prana in Sanskrit. You can only live for a few minutes without breathing.
Breathing is one of the few automatic bodily functions you control with your conscious mind. To a point, you decide how long to inhale, to hold your breath and when to exhale. Paying attention to your breathing helps you connect to the present time.
Conscious breathing forms the basis for many spiritual and energy practices. The ancient teachings of Kriya Yoga emphasize the relationship between breath and the conscious mind. Its name, Kriya, suggests that all action—kri—is accomplished by the inner soul—ya. If you are aware your soul must inhale every breath, then you take the first steps to know your inner being. Become aware that your breath influences the mind and vice-versa. This reciprocal relationship reveals the secret of controlling the mind, body and spirit—breath control is self-control. Breath mastery is self-mastery.
Not all breaths are created equal. The greatest benefit from breathing patterns occurs when you take a deep abdominal, or “belly” breath. Singers and wind instrument musicians refer to this as a diaphragmic breath as the diaphragm expands down and outward on the inhalation and pushes up on the exhalation.
Since the lungs completely fill with air, the belly expands outward. When the breath is exhaled, the belly pushes inward and up. Little babies naturally breathe in this manner as well as most people when they are lying down.
When you breathe this deep belly breath, you bring in more oxygen into your body. Oxygen allows your cells to radiate a steady, gentle heat. This, in turn, enables the body to process food and rid itself of waste products faster. Your brain is more efficient and your heart and bloodstream are healthier.
Unfortunately, unless you are trained in yoga or as a vocal or wind instrumentalist, you probably use only the top third of your lungs. Native Hawaiians refer to non-natives as haoles, which describes foreigners as shallow breathers or people “without breath.”
In fifth grade, I started playing the clarinet. My excellent music teacher emphasized proper breathing techniques for creating a full tone. At the time, my fifth–grade mind rationalized I needed to breathe with my diaphragm all the time and not just when playing my instrument. Later, when learning Hatha Yoga, I discovered my breathing habits aligned with my yoga practice. I had instinctively started breathing in this most beneficial way, making diaphragmic breathing, or “Belly Breath,” a life habit.
In any of my trainings, I begin by teaching the “Belly Breath.” Remember, breath mastery is self-mastery and the Belly Breath is the master’s breath.
To check if you are doing the belly breath, look at yourself in a mirror, paying attention to your shoulders. Take a deep breath.
If your shoulders move up, you are filling your lungs only in the upper chest area. Take your hand and place it on your abdomen. If your hand moves outward with your inhalation and in with your exhalation, you are doing the belly breath.
To get the feel of this breath, lie on your back. Place your hand on your abdomen. Relax and, after a few minutes, you will find that you are “belly breathing.”
When you inhale, breathe through your nose, if at all possible. Your nostrils possess some wonderful filters, purifying the air and conditioning it for your lungs. Your mouth doesn’t have this capability.
When you exhale, I prefer to also channel the air through my nose, unless I’m vocalizing a sound. You might find exhaling through your mouth is more comfortable. If this is the case, then go with that. Air expelled through the open mouth is warm. If you are vocalizing an “OOOOO” sound, the air feels cool. (Didn’t know you could blow both hot and cold?)
Now you have the Belly Breath mastered, here are several breathing patterns enabling you to be centered in your body. To master breath control involves a counting structure, i.e. a disciplined control of when you inhale and exhale. For each exercise, or as I call them “Playercise,” you breathe to a patterned count.
Four Square Breath
The Four Square Breath Playercise aligns, balances and centers your energy. This breath additionally relaxes you. It’s easier to learn new things when you are relaxed. You can use this breath at any time, anywhere.
The Four Square Breath is based on an ancient principle of balance between the four elements: Water, Air, Fire and Earth. Basically, you inhale through your nose to a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four through your mouth, making a soft “HA” sound, and hold your breath for a count of four. The sequence of the breath looks like this:
The “Inhalation” breath represents the energy of Water as it is flowing into your body.
The “Hold” of your breath after inhalation represents the element of Air. As you hold this breath, the Air element brings the energy to your head.
The “Exhale” breath represents the element of Fire. As you exhale through your mouth with a soft HA sound, think of a martial artist exhaling the force of their energy as they slam their hand through a board and break it. This is “Power!”
The “Hold” portion of your breath after exhalation represents the element of Earth. Earth energy is very grounding.
The first time you do the Four Square Breath Playercise repeat the “square” pattern for four cycles. Each time you do this Playercise increase the numbers of “square” repetitions.
Carolyn White PhD is an author, speaker and Chakra Life Coach. She & her husband Gerry take and interpret aura photos. www.CarolynWhitePhD.com.