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The Power of Breathing
by Bret Lyon, PhD

The way you breathe is the way you live. Full, free breathing is the key to enhancing physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Breathing fully and freely is our birthright. If you watch a baby breathe, you will see a remarkable sight. With each inhale, the baby's belly fills with air like a balloon, the pelvis rocks forward, the legs open. The chest rises and then falls, like a raft on the ocean. This is natural, oceanic "full-body breathing." It is the way we were meant to breathe.

Breathing effortlessly, a baby lives fully and freely in the "now," in the expansiveness of the moment. There is no past to remember, no future to plan for or worry about. Each breath is a process of receiving from the universe and giving back to it. With each inhale, she takes in. With each exhale, she gives back. She is in touch with and part of the basic rhythm of life.

The baby doesn't know this consciously, of course. But she experiences a peace, joy and connectedness with all things.

As we grow older, unfortunately, we lose the freedom and expansiveness that were ours at birth. We become afraid of disapproval, punishment or abandonment. We experience unpleasant feelings that we don't know how to handle.

As a result, we begin to shut down. We learn to "control" ourselves, to "be good." We sacrifice our desires for the approval of others. To control ourselves in this way, we unconsciously tighten our muscles and restrict our breathing. We discover that the less we breathe, the less we feel — and the easier it is to get along and "do the right thing."

As adults, we tend to breathe small and shallow, mostly in the chest, with little visible movement. To make matters worse, most of us literally stop breathing for short periods 50 to 100 times a day.

When we constrict or stop our breath, we lose touch with what is happening in the present moment — with how magical and wonderful it is just to be alive. Instead, we focus on the past and the future. Our minds race with thoughts — worrying, figuring and planning. We lose the freedom, joy and expansiveness that was ours at birth.

Miraculously, by directing your consciousness back to your breathing and learning to work with it, you can regain what has been lost. You can learn to let go of patterns of worry and tension which hold you back and return to natural, oceanic, full-body breathing. Like a baby, you experience the full feeling, possibility and connection of each moment.

As you become aware of your breath and work with it consciously, you make a direct link into your autonomic nervous system, gaining access to a part of yourself that usually functions outside of conscious awareness.

It is no accident that all meditation techniques in all religions are based on breathing. (Chanting, of course, is breathing with sound.) As our breathing gets fuller and deeper, we can feel ourselves softening, opening, getting more spacious inside.

The breath takes us into our very core. It is no coincidence that in many languages and many sacred texts, the word for breath also means soul or spirit — psyche in Greek, anima in Latin, Ruach in Hebrew.

As the breath goes in and out, we feel a connection between the inside and the outside. Through breath, we are connected with all living beings. When I first experienced full-body breathing myself, even my New York cynicism couldn't withstand the amazing sensation of getting in touch with oneness.

Breathing is restorative. It can cleanse us of toxins that have built up in the body and the mind. It can help rid us of worries and tensions and bring us back to our true nature and our true place in the timeless universe. This most basic and essential of all our activities can also be the most transformative.


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