We spend most of our days moving around from one activity to the next. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take time out of every day to just stop moving and listen to the breath. Listening to the breath can reveal tension areas in the body and mind. By doing a few simple breathing exercises you can gradually release these areas of tension and free the body and mind. I challenge you to take time everyday to focus on your breath. To make this a habit I want you to determine a specific time each day that you dedicate to breath awareness. It is great to practice breath awareness in the morning to start the day in a relaxed state. This will also help you become more mindful of your breath throughout the day. You can also practice breath awareness before bed helping you to relax and unwind from the day. After this becomes a daily ritual then try to incorporate it into all areas of your life at various times during the day.
Observing your breath will help you become more present in the moment. It helps you get away from thinking about the past and the future but instead focus in on exactly what is happening now. While observing your breath you want to get into a state of deep relaxation where you are still conscious and aware but deeply relaxed. It will take time and practice to reach this deep state of relaxation.
Do not try to alter your breath. You just want to become aware of your breath. The awareness will help you understand what is going on with your body and mind. You will learn about your habitual patterns. Notice what muscles are engaged while you breathe. Notice if the breath moves easier through one area of the body compared to another. Some days you may not be able to relax as much as others. Ask yourself why.
As you let go of tension in various areas of the body and mind, new feelings and sensations will arise. You will become more mindful and conscious of how to relax your body and mind on a regular basis. Try to carry over the release of the body and mind into everyday life.
Here are a few ways to start observing your breath:
1.Lay in relaxation pose. Use a folded blanket to lay on various areas of your body. The goal of this exercise is to help you increase your attention to those areas and just notice what the body and mind are doing. First place the blanket over your thighs and notice the tension. Next place the blanket over your lower ribs. Next place the blanket over your upper ribs. Notice of the ribs are expanding and moving. Finally, place the blanket over your eyes and forehead.
2. Lay on a bolster or foam roller with a folded blanket under your head. Start paying attention to where the stress is in your body. Notice the flow of your breath. Notice areas that are not getting breath. Notice what is going on when you inhale. What is rising and falling? What is expanding and contracting? Notice what happens to the body and mind when you exhale. Is the body relaxing as you exhale? Do you continue to hold tension even on the exhale?
3.Lay in relaxation pose with your calves up on a chair or your legs up a wall. Start to direct the breath with a light intention. Inhale and direct the breath to the lower lobes of the lungs. You should feel the back of the lower ribs touch the surface and feel the lateral expansion of the ribcage.
4.Lay in classic relaxation pose and observe your exhalation. As you exhale direct the air out and allow the front of the ribcage to move down and in while the sternum floats down. The exhalation should allow you to release unwanted tension in the body and mind, especially in the neck and chest region.
5.Lay on a bolster in relaxation pose with a folded blanket under your head (just as in step 2). Notice the length of your inhales and exhales. With a light intention equalize the length of your inhales and exhales.
6.Now we are going to open the front of the body to allow more breath in. Lay in relaxation pose with a rolled up blanket or foam roller available. Place the blanket at various areas under the body and then breathe into these areas for numerous breaths to open them up. You want to feel an expansion in the front of the body after this exercise. Place the rolled up blanket under the following areas (one at a time), breathe into them and allow the body and mind to expand: upper back (middle of shoulder blades), lower ribs, lower back, sacrum and under your legs. As you expand each area resist the temptation to allow the other areas to return to their habitual patterns.
7.Lay in relaxation pose over a bolster with a folded blanket under your head. After opening the front of the body and laying on the bolster your body should naturally want to open and release with a deeper breath. Attempt to deepen your inhale by allowing the body to absorb more of the inhale. Focus on deep, slow, smooth inhales. Allow the inhale to fill up the lungs allowing the ribcage to expand from the lower ribcage to the middle ribcage and finally the upper ribcage. Be mindful of what your facial expression or tension is during all the breathing exercises. If the face and/or jaw are tense, relax them. As you exhale allow the belly to release first and then feel your front ribcage float down and in and your sternum relax and drop towards the floor. Continue to absorb more breath on the inhale and expel all the tension on the exhale. Every day work towards a more relaxed body and mind.
Good Luck with the above breathing exercises. Remember, we are not rushing to get to an end goal or finish line. The goal here is just to bring a daily awareness to the breath that will allow you to bring more relaxation to the mind and body in daily life.
I have practiced this breathing exercise with many patients and clients. There are many modifications but the above exercises will get you started. I suggest you practice one exercise each day in the beginning. After you become more experienced you can combine some of the above exercises and modify them to your own needs.
Check out the book “Yoga: The Poetry of the Body” by Rodney Yee for more details the above breath awareness exercises and pictures of the various positions.