In this article, I discuss the importance of breathing for personal empowerment, calm and healing. You will find this article helpful if you:
- value learning,
- enjoy trying out practical exercises to discover something about yourself,
- want strategies for feeling calm and in control.
We all seek pleasantness
We all seek pleasantness in some form. From agreeable neighbours to pleasant workplaces, amicable friends, agreeable lovers and children to pleasant commute journeys and outings. Pleasantness is wooven into the fiber of our nervous system. It helps us relax.
Feeling empowered and whole give us an internal feeling of pleasantness no matter what is happening around us. But this is not so easiy to achieve in the face of common daily stresses. More often than not, life can easily turn into a long string of stressful events that cause frsutration, anger, impatience and anxiety.
Can you recall the last time you felt ‘on edge’ or mildly depressed. Perhpas you got wound up by an irksome colleague, a critical and demanding lover, or the state of the world. There is no shortage of things to get us out of feeling groovy, especially when we feels powerless against what ever is happening.
Let’s explore how we can change our state from one that gets us down to something a bit more neutral.
Exercise 1: Feeling low experiment
- Bring to mind something that makes you feel slightly on edge or makes you feel sad.
- Notice how you feel in response to the picture in your mind; what thoughts, feelings, body sensations arise as a result?
- How are you breathing?
Now that you have a good sense of how your state changes when you contemplate something unpleasant, lets explore how we can change your state.
Exercise 2: The persuit of bliss
- Consider the last time you felt calm, collected and deeply content?
- Recall where you were? Who was with you? What else was around you? What were you doing?
- How did this impact your body, mind, heart and spirit? What sensations, thoughts and feelings arise in you now as you think about it and experience this again?
- Notice how you’re breathing.
As it turns out, our breathing is a quick shortcut to feeling better.
Personal empowerment rests on how we percieve things and what we choose to do
Contemplate the following two responses. The first comes from a place where you feel calm, collected and empowered. The second, starts from you feeling upset or aggrevated. Which one would you choose if you were going to act wisely?
I bet you chose calm and in control. But, how often are you actually choosing?
Rushing about reacting to things imakes it harder to stay calm and grounded.
Exercise 3: Connecting with calm through nature
- Imagine each moment of life being a bit like this lake in the photograph above: a picture of calm and beauty, as well as a paradox of hidden complexity. It seems still and yet it is filled with all sorts of life forms.
- Take up the invitation to be with this calm lake. Imagine you’re sitting at its edge, being fully present to it for a minute or so.
- Notice how this makes you feel. what thoughts, feelings and sensations arise as you look at the picture?
Each moment arrives in our senses with the incredible depth of a still lake. When we’re rushing about, we often miss it. In the process, we disempower ourselves by becoming scattered.
Is there any wonder we struggle to do well and be well considering we often find it hard to grasp our own needs?
We can sense scatter in the body
I often begin our integration retreats by telling participants that the easiest way to learn about someone’s state of mind is to watch their body. The same is true for getting insights into your inner workings.
Posture, movement, tightness, aches, stiffness signal energy blockages and scatter. Places where conflict hides speak their truth loud and clear.
- Tight shoulders often signal taking on too much while lacking adequate resources.
- Stiff hips may tell us about deep-seated fear of moving forward and facing change.
- Bloated tummies may signal anxiety or sign of possible past trauma.
- Headaches, skin problems, and general lethargy may be the body’s way of telling us that our current life is not serving us well.
Bodies speak loud and clear. All we have to do is pay attention. If you want to know more about the mind-body connection take a look at my recent book Body Talk.
Connecting with the breath is a way to reclaim personal power
The foundation of feeling empowered is breathing. Breathing is simple which means it’s also not as easy as we think. We do it all the time without really paying much attention and we often do it badly.
Breath gives life. It moves energy. This is why countless spiritual practices and healing rituals make use of conscious deep breathing. Where stress and anxiety may send the mind into spirals of further anxiety, conscious breathing reconnects us with the present moment where we can and must breathe fully. Just a few deep, slow breaths activate vital brain pathways that help calm us down.
Mindful breathing will reconnect you with your personal power sources
Taking a few moments each day to breathe with more attention and self-love has incredibly profound consequences for:
- state of mind,
- way of being,
- our performance,
- how we connect with others,
- our ability to respond to life.
Breath literally moves energy. When we breathe molecules vibrate in our bodies, pressure changes, our muscles, and blood vessels alter their shape, the level of oxygen shift, and our heart rate alters. In other words a great deal of things change in our physical stafe which in turn can change how we feel and what thoughts we entertain.
It’s easy to dismiss the power of the calm breathing
When I used to come across calm and collected people I would put them into one of two categories:
- Those with ‘privilege’ I felt I did not share. This could be health, money, fame, status or some other condition that made it easy for them to be calm and which I felt I lacked. This sort of thinking got me to feel bad about myself.
- Fakes. People who appeared calm on the surface, but who often masked much unspoken trouble when you got to know them.
And then there was the third kind. This category was reserved for the holi people and Buddist munks. One weekend, while attending a spiritual retreat with one such holi man I saw him get angry. Something was not as he wanted it and he got into a state over a fairly trivial matter. Seeing him battle his sacred yogi status in front of hundreds of devoted followers and seemingly needing to mask his true emotional reality helped me forgive myself and others for being human. I began to laugh at my judgmental self and as I started to laught, my belly exoended and I was breathing deeper and felt much better. I discovered how crying and laughing eventually reconnects us with a state of pleasantness. This made me pay more attention to daily instances where I chose to breathe more consciously deeply and with calm.
The foundation of empowerment is calm, deep breathing
Developing my spiritual practice over the years helped me realise that great deal more pleasantness was at my fingertips. Where life brought a challenge, calm and mindful breathing reconnected me with my true privilege: I was alive, able to self-care and able to make a choice about what to do.
Paying more attention to my body and breath also helped me face the truth of my experience. The more permission I gave myself to feel, the more it pointed me towards what I needed most: safety, love and connection, and more joy and pleasantness.
“When you own your breath, nothing can steal your peace.”Unknown
In his book Stepping into freedom: rules of monastic practice for novices, Buddist monk, global spiritual leader, writer, and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, writes “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
One of my favorite breathing practices
- When I want to return to feeling calm and grounded, I turn my attention inward, close my eyes or softly gaze forward. I imagine a calm lake and I begin to breathe with it.
- I inhale the gentle calm air from its surface and swallow it deep into the pit of my belly without forcing it.
- On the exhale, I notice the breath leaving me, visualising it stroking the lake’s surface.
- After a few surface breaths, I begin to draw energy and breath from deeper layers of the lake.
- Sometimes I will breathe the very bottom of the lake: the dark, still and cooling breath enters my body. It feels spacious and without boundaries.
- Wherever I breathe from, I exhale back to the same place calmly, with reverence for the practice and in unity with the lake.
- After a few minutes, I feel incredible levels of calm.
I invite you to try it or develop your own version.
A powerful breathing technique from Max Storm
I really like Max Storm’s work. His TED talk is incredibly powerful and a must see. In it, Max shares a simple breathing technique he uses to help clients stay responsive to life and in a place of choice. And if you come to our retreats, you will learn other forms and patterns of breathing to help you: (1) clear your mind, (2) feel grounded, (3) reconnect with your body, (4) feel your spirit, (5) heal and locate your inner grace.
Last piece of advice from author and songwritter Charlotte Eriksson
“Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water.
Make the room dark.
Lie down and close your eyes.
Notice the silence. Notice your heart.
Still beating. Still fighting.
You made it, after all.
You made it, another day.
And you can make it one more.
You’re doing just fine.”
In summary, if you want to feel calm and empowered breathe mindfully. Take deep, slow and calm breaths and choose to focus on what is pleasant. Soon enough the way you will respond to the challenges in your life will be from a place of calm, collected intelligence and that is where your power resides.
Resources to explore further
- For your mind and heart read A life worth breathing by Max Storm. It makes a great case for breathing and why it matters.
- For the body look up Yoga with Adriene. Her yoga and meditation videos range in length and levels of difficulty and I have really enjoyed completing her 30 day series.
- To support your spirit seek nature. Breathe it in. Become one with it. Nature is a natural healer and rebalancer.
- Join the Make Time Count newsletter and receive a free 31 Days of Self Care download. Find more ways to start taking steps towards self-love today.