Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Lengthen the exhale

Breath is life. Without it, the body would disappear down the drain faster than a breakfast of muesli and coffee. It’s possible to live for weeks without food, less without water, but only minutes without your breath. (Unless you’re a yoga master, whereupon you probably won’t be reading this blog but eating muesli in the Himalayas.)

How you breathe is often a reflection of the way your life is running at any given moment.

A full and gracious inhale images our ability to open our arms to what life has to presents us.

A smooth and extended exhale mirrors, not just our ability to pass on the bountiful gifts life has given us, experiential proof that letting go is the secret to an effortless and bountiful existence.

As Sam’s Son has often told us: Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.

Same with the breath: Make the effort to completely clear yourself of all the air in your lungs and watch how effortless the inhale becomes. Visual proof: when you drop a rubber ball, it dribbles, rolls, and comes to a stop. On the other hand, smash it against the hard floor with all your might and it springs effortlessly in the other direction, proving a very valuable insight into the cosmic law of giving to receive.

Kid yourself not. There is a definite correlation between the way you breathe and the way you’re living your life. Both in a positive and a negative sense. Is it surprising to see that Paul Bunyan has a chest like a keg of beer, or that the cross-legged, nail-biting, conspiracy theoretic living in the cellar of his mother’s house smokes 300 cigarettes a day?

Short fast breathing bordering on hyperventilation (sympathetic response or the fight or flight reaction to a threatful situation) is a sure sign of stress, and you know where that leads. Deep relaxed breathing (parasympathetic activation: the rest response that occurs when we feel free of threat or danger) is the best way to out bodies and minds back into harmony. Both have their roots on opposite sides of the Vagus nerve.

Research has found that slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and increases healthy vagal tone.

That being said, I think it’s definitely time for us to start learning to breathe out; difficult in today’s society where everyone seems so intent on amassing great wealth, scared to give anything away less they be deemed a dupe. Time to recall it is truly better to give than receive because in the giving we open ourselves to effortless reception of what the Universe has to offer. 

I like to remind my yoga students that much of what happens on the yoga mat serves as splendid metaphors for what goes on in our lives off the mat. Our breathing patterns are the perfect example.

Beginners find it hard to focus on their breath for more than a couple of seconds. Not surprisingly in today’s society where most individuals have an attention span shorter than a goldfish. A recent study found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds today. (Probably why only 3 people have come this far in the article! :-))  In comparison, scientists believe that the goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds.

Again, the secret to a life with less stress, less anxiety, depression, bought of feistiness in old age, etc., lies in our ability to let go which we can improve by learning to breathe out.

A simple yogic breathing exercise:

Lie or sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Watch your breath for a minute or so until it evens out. Then: inhale for three seconds and exhale for five or six until your out-breath is double so long as the in-breath. Continue for five to ten minutes. In time, up the ratio to 4/8, four in and 8 out, counting ever slower as your skill increases.
This has an incredibly calming effect on your parasympathetic nervous system.

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