Yogis, qigong practitioners, meditators, alternative health practitioners, and others have known for many years that conscious, natural breathing can help reduce stress, increase relaxation, and facilitate healing. In her groundbreaking book Molecules of Emotion, neuroscientist Candace Pert lends scientific support to this view when she tells us that bringing our attention to our breathing during meditation brings many such benefits. According to Pert, mindful breathing helps us “enter the mind-body conversation without judgments or opinions, releasing peptide molecules from the hindbrain to regulate breathing while unifying all systems.”
In a phone conversation I had with her on May 9, 1995, Pert pointed out that the part of the brain that controls breathing is located at the fourth ventrical of the floor of the brain. This is the same location the secretes many neuropeptides, which, among other actions, modulate our feelings, which, of course, have an enormous influence on almost every aspect of how we function.
What is important to take from these physiological facts is that the way we breathe can have a powerful influence on the relationship between mind, emotions, and body. If our breathing is disharmonious, for example, the relationships between these functions will also be disharmonious, resulting in poor communication between them and little sense of real wholeness.
A big help in improving communication, harmony, between these functions is to practice following, being present to, your breathing. In this practice, you simply use your inner attention to follow, to sense, your inhalations, exhalations, and any natural pauses between for several breaths. When sensing your breathing, it is important not to attempt to manipulate it or control it in any way. Any effort to do so, especially an effort driven by your thoughts or emotions, will most likely bring or exacerbate disharmony.
If you really wish to reduce stress, increase relaxation, and improve communication between thinking, feeling, and sensing, one approach is to sit quietly each day for at least 15 minutes in touch with the whole sensation of your body, including the subtle inner and outer movements of your breath. Sit on a chair or cushion with your eyes closed and your hands either together in your lap or palms down on your knees. Sense your weight being supported by the earth, and allow the entire sensation of your body to come alive inside your awareness.
Once your mind and body become very quiet and you are in touch with the overall sensation of your body, pay particular attention for several breaths first to the air entering and leaving your nose, noticing the warmth or coolness of the air. Then gradually (and progressively) expand your attention to include the movement of air into and out of not only your nose, but also your throat, trachea, and lungs. Sense how the air feels as it moves through the airways and notice any “electric charges” as the air intimately touches the tissues through which it moves.
As you undertake this practice, be careful not to analyze or judge anything you notice about your breathing. Just watch, sense, and feel your breath as it manifests throughout your body. This will help balance your energies and bring your body, mind, and feelings into a more intimate and harmonious relationship.
Copyright 2010-17 by Dennis Lewis