Take a Minute to Breathe – The Prequel

Start small. Start where you are.
Notice 10 breaths and see where the oxygenation takes you.

After I posted my article last year about breathing, I got feedback from some folks that the exercises were difficult and took a lot of effort to practice. If a breathing exercise is leaving you stressed, dizzy or gasping for breath, it’s time to try a different exercise. Here are a few to try.

Try them all and then practice the one that is easiest. Yes, practice the one that is easiest. Our more-is-more mindset tells us that only the biggest, most difficult physical challenges will produce results. There’s nothing wrong with big gestures and grand achievements. Just don’t lose sight of the reality that small acts of good health done consistently produce the most results over time. Focusing on your breath is one of these small acts. Starting with a soft effort and an enjoyable exercise is the best way to get the benefits of breath work. Ten breaths, one or more times per day, is a good place to start.

You might wonder why breath exercises even matter. I mean, you breath all day, every day without thinking about it, right?? While that’s true, experience and research tells us that spending time focusing on this thing we do automatically produces unquestionably good benefits for our mental, emotional and physical health.

Breathing in through your nose to draw the action of breathing down into your belly and then fully exhaling:

  • Calms the nervous system (less anxiety, stress and depression, lower blood pressure).
  • Gently moves the ribs and vertebrae (more at-the-ready space for bending, twisting and sudden movement).
  • Activates pressure changes in the chest, abdomen and pelvis and massages organs from the inside (better digestion and organ function, and fuller breaths even when you’re not thinking about it).
  • Engages and relaxes deep muscles that we may not realize are tight (fewer headaches, less back and shoulder pain).

Position yourself for ease

  • Sit in a chair or lay down with your knees bent and your feet on flat on the floor (support your head and upper back with a pillow, as needed).
  • Consciously soften your belly. This is a good time to take a break from engaging your core.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth.
  • If you feel dizzy or light headed during the exercises, take a break. Return to the exercise when you are ready.

You can do these exercises alone, string them together for a longer practice, or do your favorite one to center and warm up at the start of a 5-minute breath work session. Click here for 5-minute breath work suggestions.

Abdominal breathing

  • Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Breathe in and out a few times. Your goal here is to notice how your breath is moving your body.
  • Place both of your hands on your belly and rest them there for the rest of the exercise.
  • Inhale through your nose to breathe from your abdomen without forcing it.
  • Feel your belly expand so that your hands move away on the inhale. Notice that your hands softly float back toward your spine on the exhale.
  • If you notice your shoulders, neck or belly get really contracted or tight in part of the breath, ease off a bit. You want your breath to be expansive without being full of effort.
  • Make the rhythm of your breath smooth and easy. Be happy with where you are now, even if you wish the breaths were longer or deeper.

Watch your breath

  • Close your eyes or soften your gaze to bring your attention inside.
  • Focus your attention on your breathing, and do not try to change it.
  • Watch your breath go in and out.
  • Keep your awareness on your breath, almost like you are watching someone else.
  • You an observer here and simply noticing your breath. Noticing where breath moves your body and what speed and rhythm it takes.

Focus on breathing out

  • Close your eyes or soften your gaze to bring your attention inside.
  • Focus your attention on your breath, and do not try to change it.
  • Think only of breathing out. Your inhale will happen on it’s own in response to your exhale.
  • When you push more air out, you will automatically take more air in.
  • Breathe deeply and feel yourself relax.

Sometimes it is easier to follow along with someone else at first. Click here for a quick and easy one to follow along with.

If you use a meditation app on your phone or tablet, many will have some short breath-focused meditations to choose from. My favorite completely free (no in-app purchases) meditation app is called UCLA Mindful. Look for it in your app store. In the UCLA Mindful app, select “Breathing Meditation” in the “Basic Meditations” section.

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