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Breathe (You Have To!)

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How many times has someone asked you to take a breath? To count to ten? To just "chill out" and breathe? It may feel condescending to be reminded to do one of the most simple human acts, but it's important. Yes, breathing keeps us alive. But it also acts as so much more. In yoga culture, breathing connects the body and mind. Proper breathing rituals can help prevent anxiety attacks or fits of anger. Breathing can also connect a person to a deeper sense of self.

For me, breath is a balancer. It gives me a place to come back to. If I'm angry, I breathe, I meditate and I think about the source of that anger. If I'm working out and feel like giving up, I breathe in rhythm with my body, I focus on where my breath is moving, what parts of my body it fills. If I'm happy, I collect myself with breath and remind myself that it's important not to magnify success or failure. Breathing grounds me. And while it seems pretty basic to "just breathe" we often forget that breath can be used in many different ways.

So, here are a few alternative and simple ways to think about and use your breath throughout the day!

Morning Breath
It's smelly but it's worth it...

What do you do when you wake up in the morning? Chances are you check your phone, peruse Facebook, see how many new likes you've gotten on Instagram, you may hit the snooze button a few times or log on to your computer to finish that work you forgot to do last night.

We normally don't give ourselves enough time to enter into the day. We rush; we immediately plug-in and we don't treat our bodies and minds with the patience and kindness they deserve.
Instead of going straight for your iPhone try staying in your bed right after waking up, with your palms facing up and body relaxed. Take a deep inhale through your nose and count to ten, then exhale through your mouth for another ten counts. Repeat this four or five times. Once you've practiced this try adding daily intentions into your breathing ritual. What are your goals for today? Are you going to finish that big project? Be kinder to a friend? Practice empathy?

Sure you may have to wake up a bit earlier but taking time to sit quietly and breathe in the morning can help jumpstart your day. Breathing in the morning makes me feel more connected to the important things in life; the feelings of others and my own emotional state. It also sends a little bit of love to my body. It helps me set goals and prioritize me. Plus its an extra few minutes in bed!

Breathe Before You Speak
Post morning breath, you're now fully awake and ready to interact with the world!

We've all heard the phrase, "think before you speak." Some of us more than others (guilty as charged!). It's important to think about what you want to say before you say it, especially in high stakes situations. The same holds true for breathing. Staying connected to your breath in moments of emotional distress can help you stay calm and think clearly.

Try this: The next time you're angry or upset take a moment to breathe. If you're with someone, step out of the room. If you're alone and it's available lie down on the ground or on a bed. If not, sit or stand in a relaxed position. Close your eyes and breathe as deeply as you can. Try to focus on breathing through your diaphragm, a muscle in your lower abdomen. To find it put your hand under your belly button and push your stomach muscles out as you breathe in. This may feel a bit awkward but I promise you'll get used to it. When your lungs feel full take one extra sip of air. Hold the air inside of you for five seconds and then put your lips in a whistling shape and breathe the air out as slowly as you can. Do this as many times as it takes to slow down your heart rate and feel more emotionally grounded. Then try to find the words you want to say as you continue to breathe deeply.Write those words down, or express them to a friend or partner while keeping tabs on your breath.

Practicing breath exercises like this gives you the time to think and carefully choose the words you want to use. It can also help level out your heart rate and the physical manifestations of emotion. It's the healthiest way to channel your emotions and calm your mind and body.

Make Your Body Breathe
Time can get away from us during the day. The day has flown by and all of a sudden you feel overworked and stressed.

Do you ever carry what feels like debilitating tension in your body? Try channeling and moving your breath. OK, this one may seem a little eccentric but I promise when practiced with commitment it can really work! We don't often think of our lungs as three dimensional. Air goes in, air comes out. The end. But in reality, our lungs are strong organs that can hold much more air than you think. When you're feeling stressed try rolling your spine down and hanging your arms to the floor. Soften your knees and grab elbows with opposite hands. Take a few breaths here. Now try to breathe into your lower back, then your middle back and finally your upper back. If you had to choose a color for your breath what color would it be? Think about that color filling up your lungs, flowing through your arms and legs and loosening up the back of your neck. Using breath as a way to relax by moving it through your body and visualizing it is a great way to relax and even get rid of those pesky knots and muscle tension.

Whether its to relax, to find words or to feel more present, breath is a powerful tool. It is always there when you need it and can truly make you feel more awake, aware, open and connected to yourself and your world. So feel free to just take a breath.

Want to learn more about the importance of breath? Check out Joe DiStefano's talk on Breathing!