Over the years, I have studied various forms of breath control and meditation and implement these practices in my daily life. Some days one feels like Sisyphus, rolling that rock up the hill for all eternity. It is on those days that I find the practices of breath control and meditation especially helpful. I also teach my patients various forms of breath control and meditation, according to their individual needs.
I have studied methods that originate from various religions or philosophies, and I have studied methods that are completely non-denominational. You do not have to subscribe to any particular religion to get the benefits of breath work. You do not have to hide in a cave and quit your job. You do not have to wear a bindi, light incense, and sit on a $50 pillow. You can do those things if you like, but it is not necessary. All you need is your body to do effective breath work.
My friend Bruce posted a great article on the benefits of breath work today. I wanted to share it with you here. I will also include an example of a simple, effective breathing exercise.
There are two branches of our autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest). Most of us spend far too much time in sympathetic nervous system control, and not enough in parasympathetic. Therefore, we are not as calm as we would like to be most of the time. Ideally, we can alternate between the two systems with ease, but sometimes a person becomes stuck in fight or flight. This not only makes us more reactive than we need to be in certain situations, it can cause — or exacerbate — many health issues. Most of the autonomic functions are involuntary, but breath is both voluntary and involuntary, making breath work an excellent way to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system control.
Here is an iTunes recording of yours truly leading a simple breathing exercise that you can do anywhere. You will inhale for a full count of six, and then exhale for a full count of six. If you find it difficult to inhale or exhale for a full count of six, do not fret! Just do you best; you will still benefit from the practice. The audio has a short introduction before the five minute breathing exercise.
For my patients that want to incorporate breath work into their day but think they don’t have time, I suggest they set an alarm twice a day at times that work for their schedule. When the alarm sounds, I suggest that they stop what they are doing and take five minutes to simply focus on breathing. One can eventually increase the time spent on breath work, but I have found that patients are more compliant if I give them an initial target that they can easily hit. We all waste five minutes several times a day, why not use a few of those minutes to improve your health?
There are endless courses on breath work and meditation for those that wish to expand their practice. But I find that it is daily practice that really helps to remind our nervous system that it has a parasympathetic option. It is not unlike beginning an exercise routine. Short daily workouts will provide better results than going to the gym for two hours once a month. By all means, take a breathing or meditation course if you are inspired to do so, but daily practice will reap the most benefits.
Breath work has a great return on investment… and doesn’t cost a dime.