Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.
“Conscious breath control is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind.” — Andrew Weil
You could survive three weeks without eating. Three days without drinking. But only three minutes without breathing. Breathing is essential to life of course, but breathing mindfully can enhance mood, increase mental clarity, and improve overall health. Mindful breath is one of the most powerful (and overlooked) tools we have for centering, creating balance, energizing, calming, and relaxing the body, mind and emotions. Breath can even be the path to spiritual enlightenment!
There are centuries-old breathing exercises (pranayama) and plenty of resources on-line* for ways to use your breath for health and well-being. Here are 6 of my favorite super-simple ways to use the breath to feel great.
1. Exhale Relax / Inhale Energize. If you’re feeling revved up and scattered or in pain, focus your attention on lengthening your exhalation. If you’re feeling sleepy and foggy, focus your attention on deepening your inhalation.
2. 4-7-8 Breath. I love this breath for when I’m having trouble sleeping: inhale quietly through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7 and exhale through your nose for a count of 8 (some experts suggest exhaling audibly through your mouth, but I find this works less well for sleep).
3. 10-Count Focusing Breath. To sharpen focus and attention, use a progressive counted breath. Breathe in for a count of one and out for a count of one. Then breathe in for a count of two and out for a count of two. Keep building up to an inhale for a count of 10 and exhale for a count of 10. If you lose track, go back to one.
4. Ujjayi or Victorious Breath. When practicing yoga or meditation or you need to focus, use a slightly restricted throat (the action you would use to fog a mirror or clean your sunglasses) to create the ocean sound of Ujjayi breath. This breath is both relaxing and energizing and the wave sound has the added benefit of drowning out repetitive thoughts (it even helps me with musical ear worms!). For more, go here.
5. Breathe first. Before speaking or acting (or eating!), take a breath. Take two or three if you feel agitated in any way.
6. Get curious about your breath. We all have breathing habits and breath-holding habits. Notice what happens to your breath when you are:
• Exerting physically (opening a jar, lifting a bag of groceries, shoveling snow, etc.)
• Transitioning from one movement or activity to another
• Concentrating on a mentally challenging task
• Feeling irritated or impatient
• Feeling stressed
• Feeling sad
• Feeling excited
The other way to approach the curiosity exercise is to notice what is happening when you are holding your breath and what is happening when you are breathing deeply and evenly.
However you do it, even a little more attention to your breath is a powerful step toward feeling good — body, mind, emotions and spirit. If you have a favorite breathing exercise, please share it in the comments below or on the Focus Pocus Facebook page!