The 21st Century Breath

There is an epidemic in the United States and it’s called “Idontbreathe-itis”. We have stopped breathing and instead have replaced our breath with short, staccato sips of air that reach slightly down to the middle of our lungs and quick, mediocre exhales that escape hastily out of our mouths. Unfortunately, this keeps our bodies in constant cortisol producing mode, building tension in our upper body, neck and shoulders, causing stomach aches and headaches all at once. This 21st century breath has replaced the deep belly breathe where the stomach expands far out, the diaphragm moves all the way down and we fill our lungs with revitalizing oxygen and life. It has also replaced the exhale where we’re supposed to bring our navel back into our spine, pushing air from deep in our lungs up and out, releasing  toxins and CO2 back into the Earth. That’s what a real breath looks and feels like.

Everyday I pass out three breathing exercises to patients on how to engage their parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest, through the breath.  I ask, beg, and plead with anyone who will listen (usually a captive audience if they’re my patients, buhahahaha!) to take five minutes every hour to practice on of these exercises. I tell them to lock themselves in the bathroom, closet, car, stairwell, anywhere every hour and spend five minutes with themselves. Whether or not they do it, is entirely up to them, just like everything else I recommend. It’s just another tool in the toolbox.

Let’s take a ride in the time machine, let’s go back to the land of slow it down. Take 5 and let me know how you feel. Your body, mind and soul will thank you.

Here are the breathing exercises I pass out daily. Thank you to Kristin Russel at Pureyoga for these.

Relax Breathe Counting:

If you are in stress and strain or in challenging work and wanted get out of that, try this simple technique.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few slow-deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to pressure it. Ideally it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary.
  2. To begin the exercise, count “one” to yourself as you exhale.
  3. The next time you exhale, count “two,” and so on up to “five.”
  4. Then begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation.

Never count more than “five,” and count only when you exhale. After five, gain start from one. Try to do 3 minutes of this form of meditation.

Abdominal Pumping and Relax Breathing:

The steps are as follows:

  1. Sit, or stand in a relaxed position.
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose and count up to three.
  3. As you breathe in, your shoulders will rise. Increase your lung capacity by expanding your abdomen. When you breathe in, practice the expansion of your abdomen as a habit. It is actually the key to good breathing.
  4. When you exhale, push the stale air out by squeezing your stomach down in the pelvic area. This muscular action (abdomen pumping) has the beneficial effect of activating the organs in your stomach, improving their functioning. Repeated abdomen pumping also disperses any excess adrenaline, which may have been triggered by stresses.

Use abdomen pumping for three to five times, whenever you feel under any stress.

4-7-8 Relaxing Breathing:

  1. You may put the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
  2. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “shuuoooo” sound.
  3. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  5. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  6. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

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