June 16, 2017

The Breathing Pattern of Calm

There are many reasons we concentrate our attention on our breathing during meditation.

  • we train our focus not to wander
  • we come back to the present moment
  • we step away from our thoughts and see they're just thoughts
  • and last, but not least, we communicate with our body

Our emotions are accompanied by specific breathing patterns. When we feel strong emotions, we breathe faster. With anxiety, our inhales are long, our exhales our short. With anger, our inhales are short and our exhales are long. And because breathing is involuntary, most of the time we don't even notice when it changes.

Thoughts come and go in our minds, feelings and emotions come and go as well. It's not easy to control them, and it's not healthy to suppress them either. Through our breathing, we can send a message of calm.

When feeling a strong emotion, we can communicate with our body and mind through our breathing. Since our brain ties our breathing patters to emotional states, we can send it the message that everything is okay through our breathing. That's why breathing techniques are so frequently used in different therapies.

To send the message of calm to the body, we can do the following:

  1. Straighten the back
  2. Breathe into the abdomen instead of the chest
  3. Breathe slowly
  4. Calm breaths, not forcefully deep

Contrary to popular belief, deep breathing does not refer to inhaling and exhaling huge gulps of air like a human hurricane. That is the opposite of the calming breath, and it is more like hyperventilation.

Deep breathing refers to the area of the body we breathe into, which, in this case, is the abdomen. We tend to breathe from our chest when we are stressed.

When we are stressed or experiencing difficult emotions, we can communicate with our bodies through our breathing. We can send it the message that everything is okay. When we breathe this way, we can soon notice how our body relaxes with our breaths. How our mind's grip loosens on the thoughts it has been holding so tightly.

We can allow our attention to rest on our breathing and kindly calm our body with this loving message of peace. Our breath is the link between us and life itself--it anchors us to the present moment. There is no future in the breath, there is no past. There is only now.

Spending time with our breathing is a useful exercise through which we can learn to communicate with ourselves and also strengthen our connection with reality, the present moment.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

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