Written by Michael Mantz, M.D.
In this article series on breathing, I am going to share with you the 7 best breath practices that I know of and teach to my patients.
Be kind to your breath. I have learned that being too aggressive with breathing exercises, either trying too hard or trying to be perfect in executing them, adds unnecessary stress into your system and can wind up creating more imbalances rather than less. Leave any perfectionistic, competitive, or aggressive tendencies outside when doing breathwork. These qualities will likely arise during your practices. When you notice them, let them go. Sometimes labeling the pattern (ex. I notice Mr. Perfect/Ms. Competitor is out right now) can help you to let the pattern go.
Unlike exercising your legs or arms where you might train forcefully with the goal to create more muscle growth, when doing breathing exercises you use the least effort necessary with the goal of guiding your mind and body to become more integrated and in sync with one another. Think of yourself as a smooth dance instructor giving guidance to a breath that may be out of step and desires to get back into its natural rhythm.
Many people have anxiety towards their breath. They will frequently attempt to conquer this FEAR by over manipulating their breath with different breathing exercises in an attempt to take total control over it. This usually hinders long-term improvements since the motivation behind using the breathing exercises is coming from FEAR.
You reinforce any emotion that you use as the main motivator for an action. Thus if FEAR is the main emotion driving your use of breathing exercises, then the breathing exercises will reinforce the emotion of FEAR – increasing its likelihood that it will show up in your life. It’s more helpful to cultivate an attitude of CURIOSITY and CARE when doing these practices. Consider allowing these emotions to be the main drivers for your practices.
This is a non-breathing practice. Most breathing practices involve some sort of manipulation or control over the breath. The TRUSTING BREATH is the opposite. During the TRUSTING BREATH you will not be changing or manipulating your breath at all.
The 4 main objectives of this practice are:
It is both bizarre and ironic that one of the most brilliant creations in the universe, the human body, is often denigrated by our cultural upbringing. The 3 most common emotional experiences that people tend to have towards their body are FEAR, ANGER & DISGUST. It’s interesting that this fascinating creation is often a great source of conflict and confusion for most of us who own one.
If you want to increase well-being in your life, then your relationship with your body needs to be friendly. There is a word in Sanskrit, Maitri (often translated as: unconditional friendliness) is a healthy attitude to cultivate when working with your body. You don’t have to love your body, but is it possible to be more friendly towards it?
Practices like the TRUSTING BREATH can help heal our often conflicted relationships with our bodies.
+3 Million Years
The design that has gone into your human body is over 3,000,000 years in the making. There is vast non-verbal intelligence built into your body. The TRUSTING BREATH is a practice in learning how to let go of your conscious willful effort and let 3 million years of non-verbal intelligence take over and breathe for you.
1st– Enter the Head Notice where your attention is and bring it into your head. Most western people when asked where their attention tends to reside in their body usually point to their head. Let’s first bring your attention to the area behind your eyes and between your ears. You can imagine a little me in the control tower of your head. Let your attention hang out there.
2nd – The Descent – Next gently guide your attention down your body at a pace that feels comfortable to you. Let gravity help bring your attention downward. If visualizations help, you can imagine your attention taking an elevator down your body.
While your attention is gliding down your body take notice of the sensations in the areas it passes through:
Throat – notice the sensations that surround your attention as it goes through your throat.
Chest – notice the sensations in and around your chest – perhaps you can feel the beating of your heart or the expansion and contraction of the upper lungs behind your rib cage.
Belly – continue to let your attention cascade down into your belly.
(it’s OK if your attention goes up sometimes or goes chasing after thoughts – once you notice that happening gently guide it back)
Let your attention find a comfortable spot to rest right behind your belly button and let it open and relax. Allow your attention to receive the sensations of your belly. There is nothing for you to do except rest your attention in your belly and let it notice the gentle rise and fall with each inhale and exhale.
Side Bar – Trying to Feel or Sense: Your attention effortlessly receives the sensations within your body. Do not TRY to FEEL. Trying to FEEL is trying to do something you can’t DO. Sensing is a natural and spontaneous nervous system function. You can’t willfully make yourself sense better just like you can’t make yourself digest food better or see better by willful control.
Feedback: The body will always give you honest and helpful feedback. The question is will you hear it and understand the information it is giving you? When you are TRYING to feel, you will notice more tension in your body and possibly some FRUSTRATION feelings emerging. If you notice an increase in tension or frustration remind yourself to let go and chill. There is nothing for you to do.
3rd – Inquiry: Explore what it’s like when you simply allow your body breathe you. Let go of any attempts to change or manipulate your breath and notice how 3,000,000 million years of intelligence breathes you. Is it deep or shallow? Is it rapid or slow? Is it smooth or choppy? Just notice. Often conditioned patterns that try to control the breath in one way or the other will kick in. Simply notice when that happens and let go. Notice what it’s like when you TRUST your body to breathe you and when there might be FEAR creeping in or some other desire to change or manipulate the breath.
Any time your attention gets lost, come back to the inquiry: what’s it like to completely allow my body to breathe me?
4th – The HAND HUG: Finally place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Notice how that feels for a couple of breaths and then reverse your hands. Sense which hand your body wants on your chest and which one it wants on your belly.
Continue to sense your breath for as long as your body wants you to.
This is an experiential learning practice. When you are done, go over the 4 objectives above and write down your experiences in your journal.