Because it is what I do, I’ve been reading a lot (a ton, actually) about the breath this summer. What it is, how to use it, where it should go in the body, etc. And it wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I learned you could breathe incorrectly.
Well, that’s not true. I’ve known for quite some time that your breath can go wonky and take you with it pretty quickly.
For example: when you take short, quick breaths, your thoughts also tend to be short and hoppy. When you slow down the breath, you slow down the mind. We talk about this in yoga all the time. But what I have come to learn and thereby pay more attention to in the last couple months is not just the length of the inhale vs. exhale but also how far into the body the breath is traveling AND what it is doing to the body once it gets there.
Are you still with me? I told you – a TON of focus on the breath lately in my world.
Let me explain a bit more.
When you breathe just into the chest/upper lungs, you stay in action mode. You are, essentially, prepared to fight or flight it out. It being life. When you breathe into the belly, you make your way into relaxation mode. Instead of reacting, you give yourself time to consider and then respond. But did you know that the direction your belly moves when you send the breath into it also matters? And that you can do it wrong?!
I didn’t know that until last month when I was finishing up reading a yoga nidra book. And when I read the passage in particular, I did a mental scoff at the page, thinking What?! Of course that’s not possible! That being, when you inhale into the belly, you pull the belly button back toward the spine instead of allowing the belly to expand with air (which is what you are supposed to be doing). But guess what? I started paying attention to what direction my belly was actually moving as I tried to breathe my way to sleep that very night and I was TOTALLY SUCKING IT IN ON THE INHALES, exactly as I thought wasn’t even possible, much less something I was actually doing.
This, my friends, is why the expression FACE PALM exists.
So I started paying more attention and became shocked – shocked – at how many times I could find myself in this panic/anxiety inducing breath (just like shallow breathing, this reverse belly breath doesn’t really do us many favors beyond the basic, you know, staying alive bit) throughout a given day. And while I’d like to think I’ve made strides at improvement, it is definitely still happening, just like it did during tonight’s meditation sit.
Side note: do you know just how many connections come to mind when I meditate? I’m not sure that’s entirely uncommon but I’m also not sure it’s entirely the purpose. I mean, you’re supposed to be observing your thoughts/clearing the mind but having A HA moments? I don’t know. Maybe? Clearly I am still learning. Also – the most common distractor I have during meditation is writing. My brain is constantly trying to string my thoughts together in coherent written prose! Imagine that.
Anyway, although it might seem disappointing to have this happen again tonight, it was actually a light bulb moment because after my brain noticed my wonky breath and wondered, again, why I was sucking in my belly instead of pushing it out to fill up with air, everything suddenly made more sense. How often when you want to make yourself “look better” do you suck it in? When you are holding yourself back, what happens to your breath? And just what kind of belly movement goes along with all of that? The one that is less beneficial!
Now, I am not blaming all of my breathing problems on vanity, but anxiety and anxiety connected to the body in particular are most definitely at play here.
After I finished my sit tonight, I took these two pics to show just what this looks like in the body:
And goodness graciousness, in case you didn’t already get the message, I’m going to keeping trying to go for the “let it all hang out” look on my inhales because I do not want to continue being in fight or flight mode all my days.