Link Your Attention to Breath

Link Your Attention to Breath

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In India, breathing exercises were a routine part of physical and mental training. Proper breathing was an important part of education at many ancient learning centers, which were constantly refining the breathing techniques. Thus, an unbroken tradition of teaching about breath over five thousand years evolved in to a science, a "science of breathing." You can find numerous books in India on the science of breathing.

"How should I be breathing?" No body ever asks this question even though breath is the single most important factor in survival, health and longevity. Note the American Lung Association's refrain, "When you can't breathe, nothing else matters!"

When you INHALE fully and exactly as the nature designed it, you may experience the following:

As the breath goes downward, the chest expands, the rib cage elevates, diaphragm goes down and the belly comes out. The area between sternum, navel and perineum stretches. The upper back widens and the lumbar arch slightly deepens.

When you EXHALE fully and completely as the nature designed, you may experience the following:

Diaphragm relaxes, chest shrinks, ribcage sinks, the belly goes in, perineum to navel and navel to the sternum region stretches and the lumbar arch slightly flattens.

Notice how the breath and spine move together? To closely observe the spine and breath relationship, sit or stand quietly in a stable but comfortable position and follow the movement in the spine as you breathe in and out.

We always don't breathe as the nature designed it. your breathing at any time falls in one of the four patterns: 1) chest breathing, when breathing is primarily occurring in the chest; 2) belly breathing, when breathing is primarily occurring in the belly; 3) pelvic breathing, when breathing is more active in the pelvic area and 4) full breathing, when breathing involves the entire torso, from collarbones to the perineum.

Some make a distinction between "belly breathing" and "diaphragm breathing." Belly breathing is more diffuse and occurs in the entire abdomen. In diaphragm breathing, the mid-section or the dividing line between the abdominal cavity and the chest cavity expands to its full capacity.

Breath movement is not only felt in the front, it can also be felt in the back. In order to observe the movement of the back, lie down on a blanket on the floor or on a hard mattress. Bring your attention to the space between the shoulders and the upper back and notice how the back expands horizontally as you breathe in and returns as you breathe out.

What is the pattern of your breathing right now as you read this column? Is it your usual pattern of breathing? I s your breath primarily in the belly, chest or does it travel through the entire upper body?

Each breathing pattern has a specific effect on the mind and the body.

Belly breathing and, or pelvic breathing is calming and relaxing.

Chest breathing agitates the mind and the body and is often accompanied with such negative emotions as the anxiety or the anger.

Full breathing that involves chest, belly and pelvis, enriches the body with oxygen and increases mental alertness, physical stamina and a feeling of self-confidence.

If you want to change the way you are breathing at any given time, simply pay attention to it. Let your attention follow your breathing like radar.

If you want to feel active and energetic, try an ancient Indian breathing technique called, "dirgha shvasa" meaning "long breath." To take long breaths, let the attention flow "top- down" while inhaling. While exhaling, move the attention "bottom-up."

(Still continuing with the long breath) while inhaling, listen to the sound of the breath and observe how the breath enters through the nostril into the throat. As the breath goes down, the chest expands horizontally, rib cage elevates, the front lengthens from the sternum to the navel and finally, to the pelvic bowl. Thus, the breath is coordinated with downward or top down attention.

While exhaling, follow the breath upward, from the pelvic bowl, to the navel, to the sternum and all the way to the exiting of the breath through the nostril. In this manner, the out breath is coordinated with the upward or bottom up attention.

During long breaths, don't force the spinal muscles. Simply utilize your intention and attention. Form the intention to breathe in a specific manner and simply observe the breath. Then, the breath will follow its natural course.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted March 2003


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