The Power of Deep Breathing
|May 14, 2012||Posted by Bill under General Ayurveda Information, Holistic Healing Traditions||
I took a break from blogging about jobs in Ayurveda last week to work on a resume writing eBook. I’m also going to post a series on resume writing on this blog in the next few weeks.
Yesterday, I called my mom for Mother’s Day.
“Happy Mother’s Day mom! What’s up? How are you doing?” I said into the receiver on my cell phone with a smile. “What’s the weather like up there?”
I was trying to fit in a conversation with my mom yesterday, which is a pretty insincere way of looking at it. But trying to fit in 30 minutes to chat with my mom was getting harder and harder these days. I live about 1,600 miles away from my mother. I also have an extremely active toddler that seems to suck down time and energy faster than a milkshake on a hot summer day. My wife and I work full time and have recently started our own businesses. The responsibilities in my life have been pulling me in a million different directions. Unfortunately, the family members living outside my house don’t really get the time they deserve, which is sad because I love them deeply.
To make things worse, I was riding in the car with my wife and baby son while I talked. Not only was I trying to squeeze my Mother’s Day salutation into a 15-minute drive home from the grocery store, I wasn’t really interacting with the family in my immediate presence. I knew it was bad, but I felt like this was the only way I would actually be able to talk with my mother on Mother’s Day.
I chatted with my mom while my wife drove. Spring was almost over. My mother had been working in her yard, planting flowers and eliminating weeds. Her fiancé and one of my sisters had been helping her. The sun had finally come out in the Pacific Northwest and it was a warm weekend. My mom said the weekend had been beautiful, but they all almost got sunburned because they weren’t used to direct sunlight yet. It seemed like my mom was having a pretty good Mother’s Day.
Our conversation was going well until I was about 5 minutes away from our house. While I was in the midst of my conversation, the little king in the back seat started shouting for a drink. We didn’t have anything for him to drink though. As he started throwing a temper tantrum, it was getting hard to hear what my mom was saying. The car was quickly filled with the sound of a crying baby and my wife’s attempts to soothe his frustration. I was getting annoyed. As we pulled into the driveway the baby finally erupted. Shouts and sobbing filled the air.
Suddenly, I’d had enough. Couldn’t they see I was on the phone? I made some arm motions to my wife in an attempt to tell her that I would get the groceries if she would get the baby. But I didn’t want to interrupt my mom, who was busy telling me all about the brunch she had earlier that morning with my sister and her fiancé. I was trying to get my wife’s attention without talking, but she had her head down and couldn’t see my arm motions. In my frustration, I actually snapped my fingers at her. Bad idea.
My wife looked at me with anger as if I had actually hit her; or, rather, like she was about to hit me. Her gaze penetrated deeply. I could see she was mad. Immediately, I realized how wrong I was. This isn’t me. I felt bad for hurting my wife’s feelings. She’s my partner, not a servant that I order around by snapping my fingers. What came over me? I stopped my conversation with my mom and quickly apologized to my wife. I was sorry. The apology was accepted, but I knew it wasn’t going to make everything better.
The Mother’s Day conversation went on for another few minutes before I could apologize to my wife again. While talking to my wife after the incident, I realized how much better it would have been if I’d just taken a few deep, relaxing breaths. Deep breathing has helped me throughout my entire life. It’s one of the tools I use to keep my mind under control when things get hectic. In fact, my daily meditation routine, which includes many short, deep breathing sessions scattered throughout the day, is what keeps me focused, motivated, and sane despite the many activities that fill my life. Most of us understand how to breathe deeply into our bellies and allow our minds to take a break from the endless projecting that we do all day long. Here are a few reasons I take the time to breathe deeply.
Take a Break from Projecting- In the excellent book Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation, Larry Rosenberg discusses how we spend more than 95 percent of our time living in what he calls “doggy mind.” Rosenberg explains how he watched a friend play catch with his dog using a fake, plastic bone. The dog was willing to run as hard as he could for hours on end in order to catch and retrieve the bone even though it was clearly fake. Most of the time, we’re just like that dog chasing the fake bone. Our minds are constantly racing from fake bone to fake bone without taking much time to rest. We are perpetually following fake projections of reality created in our own minds.
A few, well-placed deep breaths can do much to cut through the constant projecting that clutters our minds. Whenever I realize the thoughts are starting to sap my energy and raise my anxiety, I take a few seconds to breathe deeply. I concentrate on each breath and imagine the inhalation is like clear water flowing across my brain, soaking it thoroughly. Upon exhale, I imagine the water flowing out of my nostrils, literally washing thoughts out of my head. My mind feels clear and rejuvenated after as few as 10 breaths like this.
Be Aware of the Flow- I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced it, but flow is what I call it when you are completely immersed in what you’re doing to the point that you aren’t even aware that time is passing. You don’t hear activities going on around you. You don’t see anything but what you’re working on. It’s as if you’re living in a bubble. Flow is a rare thing while working, but it’s actually going on around you all the time.
You can experience the flow of the world around you when you take a few seconds to breathe. After you’ve taken the time to concentrate on your breath, direct your attention to what’s going on around you. Be aware of your surroundings for a moment in time. Hear the birds chirping, cars driving, the wind rustling through trees. Take the time to notice how everything has a shadow. Pay attention to the cars driving all around you. Watch how they seem to glide effortlessly across the ground. Taking the time to be aware of the flow that’s all around can really get your mind back to reality. I’m usually more focused and aware after this exercise.
Concentrate- Perhaps the most important benefit of deep breathing is how it effects our concentration. It is extremely difficult to concentrate when we allow our mind to run all over the place, chasing plastic bones. That’s how I ended up in a situation where I snapped my fingers at my wife and hurt her feelings. In fact, almost all the negative things I do happen when I’m not concentrating on what I’m doing. Focusing on the breath while we breathe deeply not only stops our minds from projecting and allows us to tune back into the world we’re living in, but it can also strengthen our concentration.
I’ve been writing a lot these days and deep breathing while using guided imagery is one of the tools I use to break writer’s block. It’s hard to come up with the right words all day long, so, when the words stop coming, I take a few seconds to redirect my concentration to everything else happening around me. I cleanse my mind and tune back into the flow all around me. And then I concentrate on emptying my mind. Starting with the head, I envision that my body is made of pure, colorless crystal. Then I imagine that even that crystal disappears and there isn’t anything left in the chair where I’m sitting. There is only the passage of time. No writing. No words. No nothing. After about 5 minutes of this exercise, I am usually able to come back to my work with vigor and purpose. My concentration is back and better than ever.
Deep breathing is simply one of the many medicinal exercises prescribed in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s also part of most meditation traditions and is a useful tool for everyone regardless of religious belief. I also think that deep breathing can be used to add a little more to our lives everyday; er…rather, make us more aware of the lives that we’re living. Each day is a jewel. Our minds are vaster than we can ever imagine, but we don’t have any space for cluttered, negative thoughts. You can use deep breathing as a tool to eliminate mental clutter and bring you back to life.
Hopefully, you can use some of the information in the post to your everyday life. I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or email me.