Freedom Breath

We don’t have to make a conscious decision to breathe. That’s a nice thing. Because if breathing depended on our choice, we would not be here right now. We could not make it through a day.

This first practice is the most basic and challenging, one you should come back to everyday. It’s a powerful practice I have learned from my yoga teachers and one that even after many years, I still find myself needing to come back to in order to keep working out my old patterns of constricted breathing, not so much when I’m on my mat, but when I’m out and about and living my life.

If we observe a baby sleeping we can see their entire body moving with the breath. No part of the body is not affected by the air coming in and out of the lungs. Babies do this naturally. As we get older, we alter this pattern and often find ourselves holding our breath and tightening the body. Constraining the breath leads to tightening the body.

As air enters the body, what moves for most people is usually their chest and shoulders. This constant shrugging pattern creates tightness in the shoulders which often reflects in tension headaches and a whole number of issues. The average person takes between 17,000 and 23,000 breaths per day. Imagine that many number shoulder shrugs!

The Practice

  • Begin by sitting comfortably, with your back as straight as possible. If you prefer lying flat on your back, you can do so as well.
  • Allow yourself some time to let your breath find it’s natural pace.
  • Breathe through your nose.
  • Begin to notice your exhalation.
  • Place your hand on your belly and feel your hand move up and down with the breath. Notice if your belly goes out on the inhale and comes in on the exhale. If you find that you are reversing and your belly goes in on the exhale, pay attention to this and gently see if you can allow the belly to expand on the exhale.
  • Keep your hand on your belly and then place your other hand on your chest. Does your chest expand on the inhale? Can you feel the expansion with your hands?
  • Don’t make the breath do anything differently than you normally would. That is allow the breath to go at its own pace and merely observe.
  • Once you are doing this for a couple of minutes, begin to notice where your breath pauses when it reaches the end of the exhale. Don’t change the pause, just notice it.
  • From this point on in this practice you can place your hands on your laps or by your side and keep noticing the pause.
  • Stay noticing the pause at the end of the exhale and sense the lack of movement and thought in that short pause. There’s a stillness there that is healing and nourishing.

There’s a psalm in the Bible that says, “Be still and know that I am G-d.” The pause at the end of the breath is the present moment where we find a spaciousness without limits. Although a fraction of time, it is whole. Although only fleeting, our bodies come back to it with every single breath. It will be the last experience we have before dropping our bodies.

Observing and befriending the pause is a powerful tool that can move us toward a ventral vagal (social connection/safety) state when we have descended into a flight or fight or freeze response.

We can access the pause anytime but doing so takes practicing when we are not in the midst of reacting to difficult situation.

Practice anytime but aim to begin your morning before leaving your bed with this practice. End the day in the same way.

Poses to Try with this Breath Practice