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2011-10-21

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October 21, 2011 - 11:07pm

Everyday Spirituality: Best of the breath

BY CHRIS ANDERSON

Breathing goes beyond a life-sustaining automation. When done with consciousness, it is among the most simple and important tools we can use to raise awareness and improve our daily experience. When we pay attention to the breath, we can let go of daily stresses, center ourselves and be synchronized with college life.

But we are choking ourselves.

Not only are we are the only animals that pause in between inhaling and exhaling, but we also hardly breathe to our lungs’ fullest capacity. Meanwhile, animals breathe continuously and fully (babies too — have you ever seen one cry or sleep?). This is very telling of how we go about our day. At its essence, breathing isn’t something that we consciously do, it’s just a part of how we function as humans. But when the mind gets caught up with the stress of roles or judging daily events as positive or negative the natural flow also seen in other creatures stops. We hold our breath while a scattered, frantic mind decides our experience.

Yoga offers a profound insight. Yoga instructors say that no matter what “position” you are in, you must be able to breathe fully, properly and peacefully — nothing else matters. We might adopt this to daily living. Rather than attempting lotus or tree poses, what if our “position” was a class presentation? Having to be honest about your feelings in a close relationship? Waiting for a bus in the cold? These situations might be uncomfortable, but it’s not impossible to achieve peace and presence as they are executed.

This week, experiment with your breath. In yogic fashion, breathe only through the nose. When you inhale, breathe down into your diaphragm so that your belly and lower back expand fully. When you exhale, allow all of the air to go out. Listen to yourself and pay attention to where stress may be lurking. This can be done anywhere, doing anything. The best part is that even a couple conscious breaths are enough to change how you feel.

Try it. The results may take your breath away.

How am I doing? I appreciate and value any of your feedback on this article series so far — reach out at cjpa@umich.edu.


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