I love cutting through the jungle of metaphysical complexity to experience the simplest, most profound
Out of the hundreds of meditative practices I have learned over the last 45 years the one I will share here – I AM Breathing - is the one I personally do the most. This is because it is so simple and it never fails to bring me into my calm center – no matter what is going on around or within me.
This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book Reclaiming Your Calm Center. I will first introduce a bit about the science of breath, and then give you step by step instructions for two practices for empowering yourself through your breath. These practices are perfect for people who are reclaiming their lives from the limiting effects of past trauma or chronic pain.
Breath - The Spirit Within
Breath is our direct connection to spirit. Our language confirms this. The word “spirit” is derived from the ancient Latin word spiritus which means breath or spirit. We call breathing in inspiration and breathing out expiration. The word inspiration also means “the excitement of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity”. We also use the term expiration to refer to the time of death, when the spirit leaves the body.
Breathing is one of the only bodily functions that is both voluntary and involuntary. That means that it will happen automatically when you are not thinking about it (like during sleep), and you can also control your breath with your conscious intention. This makes it a unique way to harmonize your conscious and subconscious minds. Most of us can use a lot more of that.
Staying conscious of your breath is one of the most beneficial mindfulness experiences. The first step is to create a mental intention to stay aware of your breath more and more each day. Then bring your awareness back to the experience of breathing, over and over again until it becomes a habit.
Breathing deeply is the sign of a free person. In this
Research has shown that deep breathing has beneficial, strengthening or healing effects on the:
- Digestive System
- Energy Production
- Immune System
- Acid-alkaline balance (ph)
It has also been shown to help relieve or reduce:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Excess stress hormones
- High blood pressure
Full breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain into the abdomen. When activated the vagus nerve releases acetylcholine, a neuro-transmitter that increases focus and calmness. Stimulation of the vagus nerve also helps relieve depression.
Deep breathing also balances the autonomic nervous system – the overall regulator for all the involuntary functions of our body. It has been shown to increase alertness and the relaxation response. To put the cherry on top of the sundae, deep breathing has also been shown to have rejuvenating, anti-aging effects.
Breathing in (inspiration) slightly increases your heart rate. Breathing out (expiration) slightly slows down the heart. So accentuating the outbreath is one of the best ways to calm your heart if you are feeling anxious. Another way of saying this is that the outbreath activates the parasympathetic side of your autonomic nervous system, and this induces relaxation and calm in the organs.
That’s the physical level. Now let’s look at the consciousness level. Think about a healthy child. They are often full of energy and may
Now think about
Think about an animal that is trying to hide from a predator. If it cannot run away it will try to be as still and small and quiet as possible. To do this it slows its breath way down and breathes as shallowly as possible. If you are ever hiding from a predator making yourself still and small may be a good plan. But not a good way to live day in and day out. Yet survivors of abuse often make this a long-term habit.
Breathing in a shallow way goes along with the feeling of fear. You may not be thinking you are in a state of fear. But deep in your subconscious mind and cellular
Every spiritual system, every meditation system all have to do with breathing. The most advanced system of breath control is the science of pranayama (breath control) from India. Through diligent practice of pranayama yogis have been able to do what would seem like superhuman feats. These are called siddhis or special powers. Dedicated yogis have reportedly developed siddhis that include melting snow with their scantily clothed bodies, lifting objects much heavier than people could ordinarily lift and being able to understand the language of animals.
I’ll tell you the first siddhi you can develop for yourself – that is to reclaim the power to feel whole and good in your own body. For modern people experiencing low-grade PTSD (or
Empowering Breath Practice #1:
Before I give you the lowdown on I AM Breathing, here is a simple meditation to help you discover more about your relationship with breathing. Sit in front of a mirror if you can, and put a notebook and pen in front of you so you have a way to record your experience. Breathe in the way you normally would. Don’t try to consciously deepen or change your breathing pattern yet. This means leaving it on automatic, involuntary control. Now notice – are you mostly breathing in your chest, or are you breathing mostly in your lower abdomen? Is your breath deep or is it shallow?
After noticing your normal breathing pattern consciously choose to breathe deeply. Take the reins for voluntary breath control. Breathe in through your nose. First feel your chest rise, then direct the breath to balloon out your lower abdomen. Then breathe out through your mouth in the reverse order. Let your belly contract, then your chest fall. Really accentuate the depth of your breath. Now look at yourself in the mirror. How does it feel to be seen, to be larger in life?
After doing this a few times by yourself practice doing this when you are around people. Remember to breathe more deeply in all your encounters and say to yourself “I am a free man / I am a free woman. I am choosing to breathe fully”.
One simple way to empower this practice is to lightly touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, right behind your two front teeth. This ancient yogic practice gently strengthens your focus and inner connection. Anytime you want to perform at a higher level, do this. Anytime you are in a challenging or confronting situation, do this. Touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and take a deep breath into your lower abdomen. How simple is that?
Try going through your day breathing freely and fully. Try putting little sticky notes around your home and car to remind you. As you breathe more deeply let your body respond to the new level of breath and oxygen. It is likely you will be drawn to do more things to strengthen and invigorate your body. You may feel like stretching more. You may get urges to get up and walk more often, especially if you do a lot of desk work. You may crave getting outdoors and hiking more. You may notice that you want to drink more water or eat different foods. On an emotional
This is an extremely powerful practice. When you change your breathing pattern you are changing yourself at the core. Your breath is where you will discover your calm center.
As you change your breathing you will change the wiring of your brain and nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system will regain a healthier balance between sympathetic (activation) and parasympathetic (relaxation and rest). You are literally re-wiring your physiology. This will gradually transform the damage that was done due to trauma. You are tapping into the
I have trained myself to go to my calm center in all kinds of situations. I go to my breath to find my calm center when I need to concentrate. I go to my calm center when I want to relax. I go to my calm center when I need to bring myself into the Now moment. I go to my calm center when I am confronted with challenging, stressful experiences, and it makes a world of difference. I go to my calm center when I am craving intimacy and
There are many breathing practices taught and some are quite challenging or complex. The one I have just described – touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and breathe deeply into your lower abdomen – is very simple.
Don’t be surprised if you feel resistance come up within you as you start changing your breath. There could be a whole hierarchy of inner voices and subpersonalities in you dedicated to keeping you in the box, in a more limited state. Why? Because one of our greatest urges is to be safe. Again, this is the tragedy of PTSD. While it may have been necessary for a young child in a violent family to act small to avoid
If uncomfortable emotions come up that make it difficult for you to stay with deeper breathing you can try pendulating in and out of those feelings. This means gently allowing the painful feelings to come up, then step back for a while to regroup and center yourself. Then go back in. You go back in by breathing deeply with courage and determination to be whole. Continue to affirm “I am a free and powerful person”. Get support in this process from other, trusted people if you need it.
Now you can tap into the positive side of neuroplasticity and use conscious breathing to help rewire your brain and nervous system into more harmonious, life-affirming patterns.
As promised, here is my favorite spiritual practice. After the hundreds I have learned, this is the one I personally do the most. This is because I can do it throughout my busy, multi-tasking life!
Empowering Breath Practice #2: I AM Breathing
You can do I AM Breathing any time - when you are driving, in business meetings, going to sleep, doing the laundry, even if you are having an argument with your partner! When you first learn it I suggest that you find a quiet place where you can concentrate and not be disturbed. Once you feel clear and confident in the practice take it for a test drive as you go through all the experiences, joys and challenges of your life.
Step One: Touch the tip of your tongue gently to the roof of your mouth, right behind your two front teeth. Keep your tongue in this position throughout the practice. If you need to speak, sing, eat or brush your teeth, bring your tongue back to this position after you are finished.
Step Two: Make an invocation and intention to connect with your spirit. You can do this out loud if by yourself, or silently when with others. Use your own words that are meaningful to you. Here are some examples: “It is my intention to relax into my breath and enjoy my calm center”, or “I now connect with my indwelling Spirit through my breath easily and gracefully”.
It is worth actually saying or thinking the words as you first do this practice. After some time it will be automatic. I suggest that you intend that whenever you touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth you are invoking your spirit and intending to connect.
Step Three: Breathe in through your nose deeply, so you feel your lower abdomen balloon out, followed by your chest. Silently say the word “I” as you breathe in.
When you breathe in and out through your mouth you may notice that the sound of the breath itself sounds like “I” (
Debugging the practice:
1. It is hard for you to do abdominal breathing: If you have a hard time breathing into your lower abdomen don’t worry. You are exactly where you need to be on your journey. Know that you probably developed your pattern of shallow breathing in an attempt to survive difficult experiences in your past, and you did the best you could do back then. You are
Here is a good way to do that. Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Most people like having a pillow or bolster under their knees to take any strain off their lower backs. Place both hands over your lower abdomen, about 2 inches below your navel. Make an intentional statement to take back your power through deep breathing. Then do the I AM breathing, intending to raise your hands up with your inbreaths, and lower them down on your outbreaths.
If it is hard to do this at first be patient with yourself and don’t give up. “Inspire” yourself by reminding yourself that you are literally taking back your power by doing this exercise – the power to be happy, prosperous, intimate, healed and whole. That all follows from deep breathing – the mark of a powerful person.
2. It is hard to concentrate and remember to do the practice: Yup, we all go through this, so you are not alone! The degree of ease or difficulty you have in remembering to meditate in this way is perfect. It is exactly where you are on your soul journey. So don’t worry, don’t criticize yourself, just practice, practice, practice. That is all you need to do.
Don’t forget to tap into the awesome power of intention. Intend to regain your full breath and full empowerment. Visualize your lower abdomen ballooning out and contracting, even if that is hard to see at first.
I did write a lot of words here to explain a very simple practice. That is because a big part of spiritual awakening is the process of moving from the complex to the ultimately simple. It is my honor to support you in your awakening and empowerment. Please share your experiences here in the comment box and I will do my best to respond and help. It doesn’t matter if you have never meditated or have done it for 50 years. It is always good to be reminded of the simplest, most powerful spiritual practice.