Every day, breathe deeply. Breathe oxygen into the chest, then allow it to fall to the ribs and finally drop into the belly. This inhalation or inspiration is referred to as puraka in Hatha yoga. In Eastern philosophy, this inhalation can be compared to birth. Each breath can be taken as though it is our first and is filled with the potential of the world’s possibilities. Breathing in this manner is a conscious event. One’s attention is focused on this one task. Breathing usually happens automatically. When we allow the rest of the world to fall away and laser in and do conscious breathing, a physiological cascade starts to happen. The heart rate slows, blood pressure is decreased, stress hormone production is lowered and a sense of calm settles over the one-who-is-breathing.
Let the breath sit in the belly for a moment or two, neither inhaling nor exhaling. Feel the full potential of that one inhalation. This part of respiration is called kumbhaka and it is when we are closest to the divine.
Next, release the breath slowly, into rechaka. Very slowly, for in this same tradition, the exhalation, also aptly termed expiration, can be seen as the last breath in one’s life. Feel the retreat of air out of the belly, lifting into the ribs and finally into the chest. Hold empty, again in kumbhaka, and feel the effects of a life well lived, of having no regrets.
The beauty is that if we are lucky enough to be alive, we get to repeat this process again and again. The huge gift and responsibility of life is carried out in a single breath, over and over. The other amazing benefit of breathing deeply is that one cannot feel anxiety while one’s concentration is focused on the breath. Considering our reality, this idea is reassuring.
Reading the news is fraught with danger. Can we watch what’s happening and breathe deeply? Is there a zero-sum gain? I’ve just finished my 4-part, 4 Simple Steps to Reduce Shelter-in-Place Body Pain Facebook Live Trainings. At first, considering the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic and its resultant suffering, I thought, isn’t there something else that’s more important to focus on? In light of the outrage stemming from George Floyd’s death, have I used the full potential of each breath I’ve taken for the past month?
In the 4 trainings, we discussed ways to relax, relieve stress, boost the immune system and sleep better. This month I led an on-line Meetup and the topic was, ironically, Laughter Yoga. Was that insensitive when so many are suffering untold tragedies? Laughter’s benefits are remarkably similar to those of deep breathing. A thought attributed to Stephen Colbert is “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.” Take a deep breath and liberate anxiety. A belly laugh may follow in the deep breath’s wake. Release fear and stress. Is there anything else more important to focus on? Let’s get through this one deep breath at a time.