by Mary Frances Hansford
Today I find myself reading two books about breathing, and they are both surprisingly interesting. The Breathing Book, by Donna Farhi, is one of the books, which is an anatomical approach to breathing and the other is The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is a guide in meditation. They are both informative and enlightening in their own way, and make me realize the importance and simplicity of reconnecting with my breath. Breathing, which is something that we all begin our lives with and only stop when we take our last, has become less important over time and deduced to a simple bodily exchange. When we are born and when we are children running, playing and jumping around carelessly, our breath flows effortlessly, with relaxed and open bellies. Then over time, we develop short, shallow breaths that don’t supply our bodies with the nourishment of the oxygen flowing to each and every part and cell, and can lead to other health problems.
In The Breathing Book, Farhi points out that in ancient cultures breathing was “considered inseparable from our health, consciousness, and spirit, and it is only recently that we have reduced breathing to a mere respiratory exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. In greek, psyche pneuma meant breath/soul/air/spirit. In Latin, anima spiritus, breath/soul. In Japanese, ki, air/spirit; and in Sanskrit, prana connoted a resonant life force that is at no time more apparent to us than when that force is extinguished at the moment of death. In Chinese the character for “breath” (hsi) is made up of three characters that mean ‘of conscious self or heart.’ The breath was seen as a force that ran through mind, body, and spirit like a river running through a dry valley giving sustenance to everything in its course.”
Farhi also goes on to explain how Proper “breath therapy, sometimes combined with other healing practices such as biofeedback or yoga, has been found to alleviate (and sometimes cure) migraine headaches, chronic pain conditions, hyper tension (high blood pressure), epilepsy, asthma, panic attacks, and hyper ventilation syndrome, as well as coronary heart disease,” (p. 6) and reduce menopausal hot flashes. So, just think of the doctor’s visits, discomfort and emotions one can avoid if breathing properly.
In the Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, explains the importance of being completely mindful of what you are doing in that moment. We often find ourselves doing a task, like washing the dishes, and thinking about the future, “what do I need to do next”, rushing through things just to get them over with and out of the way. He teaches to focus on the task at hand, and give it your full focus, so that everything you do, you do your best, wether it is cleaning, talking to an old friend, writing a blog post or preparing and eating dinner. Focusing on ones breath, is one of the very first steps to being completely mindful of your tasks. He gives breathing exercises to help train your mind not to wonder. At first it may be difficult, but with time just a little practice and awareness each day can bring peace and joy to your mind.
Here are a few short and simple breathing exercises from The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh that can get you started on a routine to more mindful breathing.
Half Smile when you first wake up in the morning:
Hang a branch, any other sign, or even the word “smile” on the ceiling or wall so that you see it right away when you open your eyes. This sign will serve as your reminder. Use these seconds before you get out of bed to take hold of your breath. Inhale and exhale three breaths gently while maintaining the half smile. Follow your breaths.
Counting Your Breath
Sit in half or full lotus or take a walk. As you inhale, be mindful that “I am inhaling, one.” When you exhale, be mindful that “I am exhaling, one.” Remember to breathe from the stomach. When beginning the second inhalation, be mindful that “I am inhaling, two.” And slowly exhaling, be mindful that “I am exhaling, two.” Continue on up through 10. After you have reached 10, return to one. Whenever you lose count, return to one.
Washing the dishes
Wash the dishes relaxingly, as though each bowl is an object of contemplation. Consider each bowl as sacred. Follow your breath to prevent your mind from straying. Do not try and hurry to get the job over with. C0nsider washing the dishes the most important thing in life. Washing the dishes is meditation. If you cannot wash the dishes in mindfulness, neither can you meditate while sitting in silence.
Check out Anna’s new book Yoga for Paddling for an in-depth and practical guide on the benefits yoga and breath work bring to paddling and our lives.