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Breathing Training no. 1

Spring is here! This is the ideal time to start to train something new!
I am very happy to have some new material (1) about the old, underestimated, taken for granted, vital ability: THE BREATH!
I will dedicate this and the two following articles to show some practices to work with this essential function. Breathing is a bridge into the body and this bridge can take many forms.
Today I would like to focus on the deep slow breathing.    

By breathing deeper than usual, we make our torso, diaphragm, belly, shoulders move. Through expanding these body’s parts, we can notice the tensions or other sensations that tend to be stored in our muscles. Movement not only allows us to notice these sensations, but also helps the muscles to release.
When relaxation results difficult, the muscles try to send stronger inputs to our consciousness. These signals, that are not always easy to follow, basically say: “take care of me!” signed your body.
The other advantage of deep slow breathing is that it allows our system to slow down and to create a calm state. A state that is at the opposite of the famous “flee and fight” response: the “digest and rest” response.

Several studies have now proved that different spiritual and religious practices from different countries support the “digest and rest” response: chanting, meditations, reciting prayers, etc. All these actions promote a deep and slow respiration that brings the practitioner to take fewer breaths in a minute. These global practices result in a very similar breathing pattern where inhaling takes about 5.5 to 6 seconds and exhale about the same. The calming effect is measurable.

Breathing in counting until 6 and breathing out counting until 6, contribute to take fewer breaths in one minute and it gives a rhythm that is the opposite of being stressed. Our attention calms down focusing on us, on our respiration.

So how to practice?

  1. Decide to take 5 minutes to practice every day. This will be your first challenge because very likely your mind will be very convincing in telling you that you don’t need to take time for that, that you can do it while working or while doing something else. But actually you can not, at least until the body and the respiratory system get acquainted with this kind of rhythm so to be able to maintain it.
  2. Choose a moment in your day where you will engage with this practice: before starting your day, during a break, sitting on the train or on the tram, while walking. In order to be aware, practice without distractions. Hence no headphone, no music, no news, no telephone… make sure that you are fully available for yourself. Only you and your 5 minutes breathing exercise.
    Sit or stand with a straight back. Try to have your spine long so that the muscles beside it are engaged and the diaphragm’s area is open. The shoulders and neck are relaxed. Try not to force any muscles but just to keep the intention of being long, relaxed and with an open rips cage. If possible, close your eyes so to avoid distractions.
    If you choose to lie down, have your arms along the body and a bit apart. The palms are facing up and your feet are naturally falling while your legs are also more spread than usual. Eyes are closed.
  3. Start by taking a deep breath and then inhale counting until 6 and exhale counting until 6. Keep doing this for at least 5 minutes, with the less effort possible. While practicing, notice the different body sensations. Are there useless tensions? Notice also what your mind is telling you:  is it resisting against this kind of practice?
    Keep going back to the respiration and the counting while acknowledging the tensions and/or resistances.
  4. At the end of the 5 minutes take a moment to pay attention to your physical, mental and emotional state.

You may meet some difficulties while practicing. For example you may notice that the muscles of your torso and diaphragm are so tensed that it makes difficult to breathe deep. You could also notice uncomfortable sensations popping up while exercising. And last but not least, you may notice your mind becoming more and more restless.

These experiences are offering you important information about the next steps you could take to improve your bodyawareness. And as always, I will happy to support you in this process!

(1) Breath by James Nestor


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