This piece was written by one of our contributors; meditation teacher, founder of Just Breathe and author of Senbazuru, small steps to hope, healing and happiness – Michael James Wong. Be sure to head to the bottom of the article to get a very special gift from Just Breathe – exclusive to readers of The Food Medic!
Did you know that in an average day we take approx. 21,600 breaths? Take a moment to consider that number. That’s a whole lot. We breathe when we sleep, we breathe when we eat, we breathe when we’re on the bus, and
breathe more when we’re chasing it. As humans, we are always breathing, we never stop. But how often are we really paying attention? How often are we giving our breath the attention it deserves? Unfortunately for many of
us, very few.
But the amazing thing about breathing is that when you choose to focus on it, and take the time to notice it, you get so much more out of it physically, mentally and situationally. The hope with this article is to help create and expand your awareness about the power of the breath and to share a few different techniques to support you in your life.
Let me start first with a story. I remember when I was 18, I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and I had asked a friend to teach me how to drive a manual car, I remember those first few times, there was so much going on; three peddles for my feet, a steering wheel, a shifter & five gears for my hands, I had to look with my eyes, listen with my ears and if you’ve ever been to Los Angeles, you know, one hundred and one things going on around me on the road. It was utter chaos. But in one of those first lessons, he simply said, ‘if you put your foot on the brake, no matter what else is happening, the car will slow down and everything will be ok. Then you can decide what’s best from there’. Fifteen years later and I’ve never forgot this.
And that’s how the breath works, no matter the chaos that’s around you, just remember if you stop and take a deep breath, everything will slow down. Then you decide what’s best from there’.
The breath is life, treat it accordingly
The power of the breath has so much benefit to our lives, not just our bodies. When used with the right approach and intention, the breath has the power to calm our minds, ease our anxiety & nullify our anger. The breath is transformational, and the best thing about it. It’s always there (and it’s free!).
Remember that breathing should never be complex, even if working with breathing techniques (breath work), air comes in and air goes out. Approaching each and every breath one at a time has immense value, and starting to be aware every time you breath, you’ll quickly understand that it’s valuable. If we can notice the quality of the breath and the mindfulness of the moment we can resolve a lot of stress, anxiety and issues that come up daily in our lives. Don’t wait till it’s not there before you start prioritising it.
Learning to breathe intentionally
You may have heard of the term breathwork, the practice of manipulating the breath for certain purposes or effects, sometimes these techniques may be calming, other times the technique may be energising or uplifting,
different practices, have different intentionality. Each technique has a purposeful pattern, rhythm or retention and if you have practice breathing techniques before, you may already know the transformational power of the breathing with purpose. And additional point of clarity, you may also have heard breath work techniques as ‘pranayama’, this is the same practice and a common term used in yoga or meditation classes more directly aligned with eastern traditions and practices.
The Balanced Breath: Long, Slow & Deep
This technique is focused on balance & evenness, this is a foundational technique to shift your awareness towards the quality of your breath. It is a great technique to use of you are feeling stressed or anxious, lazy or lethargic or simply in a state of uneasiness. This technique can be done with or without counting.
In this version below is a commonly practice version called ‘the box breath’. This is a balanced breath with even inhales, exhales and pause retention’s at the top and bottom of the breath.
Inhale evenly to the count of 4
Tips: Mouth closed, evenly drawing the breath in through the nose filling the chest & lunges from the front to back (not bottom to top)
Pause and hold the breath in for 4 counts
Tips: Do not make this forceful, it should feel effortless.
Exhale evenly to the count of 4
Tips: Mouth closed, evenly moving the breath out warming the back of the lips
Pause and hold the breath out for 4 counts
Tips: Do not make this forceful, it should feel effortless.
Repeat this technique 8-10 times to feel at ease and calm
This technique focuses on energising the body and creating a sense of uplift and enlivenment. The focus is on large intentional inhales and exhales, like blowing up and deflating a balloon. This breath is a great tool for courage, motivation and giving yourself and immediate energy boost.
Inhale a big full inhale – mouth open, draw the breath in vigorously, fill the chest & lungs from front to back
Exhale a big full exhale mouth open – pushing the air out and emptying the lungs
Repeat – 30 times or for 2 minutes
Three part breathing
This technique is about slowing down and feeling grounded and in control. This breath is good for moments when
you are feeling stressed and anxious. When we do three part breathing we are controlling and segmenting the inhales and the exhales so that the breath moves intentionally first into the belly, then the diaphragm and then finally filling the upper chest and ribcage. On the exhale, it moves in the reverse order; chest, ribs, belly.
The value of this technique is helping you feel a reconnection to the body, a very intentional focus is put on control and certainty. This is an essential technique for times when you are feeling uncertain or uneasy.
Inhale – 1/3 into the belly
Inhale – 1/3 into the ribs and diaphragm
Inhale – 1/3 into the chest
Exhale – 1/3 from the chest
Exhale – 1/3 from the ribs and diaphragm
Exhale – 1/3 from the belly
Repeat – 10 times or for 2-3 minutes
If these techniques are new for you, then simply give them a try, do not over complicate your understanding, the personal experience will be your most valuable guide. If you would like to find out more and dive deeper into these practices, download the Just Breathe Meditation app for daily breathing and mindfulness practices.
As a reader of The Food Medic you can get a 1 month free trial to the Just Breathe app by signing up and using the code thefoodmedic@justbreathe [this code is only valid for 30 days from publication – May 17th 2021]. Visit justbreatheproject.com and follow @justbreathe.