The breath of life

Ideal abdomen breathing is generally done with slower, deeper breaths that raise the stomach.

by Kathy Watson — 

The simple act of breathing is a universal experience. It is the key to every part of our being and doing — from effective physical exercise to taking time to truly relax from stressful schedules. And yet for humans, particularly in the modern world, breathing can be one of the most challenging and complex bodily functions.

Breathing is the only bodily function that is both voluntary and involuntary, or unconscious as well as conscious. So even though breathing comes naturally to us, we must become aware of it to ensure that we properly train our involuntary breathing rhythms. This can be one of the most significant factors in optimizing both our physical and emotional health.

Many of us unconsciously have gaps or pauses between inhalation and exhalation. And commonly, anxiety stops us from breathing deeply. So one of the first things we can do to improve our breathing is to allow ourselves to enter present moment awareness and consciously connect our breathing by reducing or eliminating any pauses between inhalation and exhalation.

Michael Brown’s book, The Presence Process, masterfully leads the reader on an extremely personal experiential journey of emotional cleansing that allows events of the past to be released from cellular memory. The book reads like a meditation and helps one instill ever-increasing present-moment awareness, accelerated by 15 minutes of consciously connected breathing sessions every morning and evening.

Many of us have rapid, shallow breathing. When people experience high levels of stress, they naturally try to release it by sighing and/or taking deep breaths. Chronic stress and non-optimal breathing rhythms can result in physical imbalances, such as inflammation, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, muscle tension and pain.

Awareness is the key. Once we are aware and conscious of the breath, it becomes a healing bridge between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Our breath is a vital tool in communicating a harmonious balance between the body and mind. Over time, regular conscious breath training can positively influence virtually all bodily functions.

One of the first steps to better breath awareness is to determine if you are chest breathing or abdomen breathing. Place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. If the hand on your chest rises more then the hand on your abdomen, you are chest breathing.

Chest breathing is inefficient, since the greatest amount of blood flow occurs in the lower lobes of the lungs — areas that have limited air expansion in chest breathers. Chest breathing, or rapid shallow breaths, results in less oxygen transfer to the blood.

Ideal abdomen breathing is generally done with slower, deeper breaths that raise the stomach. One of the best ways to retrain shallow breathing to deeper abdomen breathing is to emphasize the exhale, which will naturally and effortlessly cause a gentle, deeper inhalation.

There are numerous breathing exercises, many of which are easy to practice and allow for optimized health and emotional cleansing. Breath awareness is a personal journey worth taking because no one can breathe for you. With every breath, we have the opportunity to practice, intensely, present moment awareness. So practice, be aware, be conscious and just breathe.


Kathy Watson has studied Buddhism, breathwork, Kunlun Nei-gung, qigong and a wide variety of healing energy modalities. She is a Reconnective Healing practitioner who offers private and semi-private breathwork and toning exercises in Mesa, Ariz. or 480-216-5281.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 4, Aug/Sept 2010.

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