The Power of Your Breath

by Will Schneider


Words and language are important. These posts are meant to break-down some seemingly big concepts into simple and easy language that will hopefully help you bring these ideas into life.

Let’s get started!

How often do you think about your breath? Do you know how powerful it can be? Let’s discover.

Definition:

Breath (noun)

  1. the air inhaled and exhaled in respiration.
  2. respiration, especially as necessary to life.
  3. life; vitality.
  4. time to breathe; pause or respite

Syn: spirit, animation, vigor, force, (prana, energy <–yoga terms)
Ant: breathless, dead, deceased, lifeless

Breathe (verb; used without an object)

  1. inhale and exhale through our lungs; respire.
  2. (in speech) to control the outgoing breath in producing voice and speech sounds.
  3. to pause, as for breath; take rest:
  4. to live; exist; to be alive

(as a verb; used with an object),

  1. to give utterance to; whisper.
  2. to express; manifest.
  3. to deprive of breath; tire; exhaust.

A QUOTE (inside a Quote):

In his great book “The Big Leap” by: Gay Hendricks has this to say:

“There’s only one way to get through the fog of fear, and that’s to transform it into the clarity of exhilaration. One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I’ve ever heard comes from Fritz Perls, MD, the psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt therapy. He said,

‘Fear is excitement without the breath.’

“Here’s what this intriguing statement means: The very same mechanisms that produce excitement also produce fear, and any fear can be transformed into excitement by breathing fully with it. On the other hand, excitement turns into fear quickly if you hold your breath. When scared, most of us have a tendency to try to get rid of the feeling. We think we can get rid of it by denying or ignoring it, and we use holding our breath as a physical tool of denial.”

“The best advice I can give you is to take big, easy breaths when you feel fear. Feel the fear instead of pretending it’s not there. Celebrate it with a big breath, just the way you’d celebrate your birthday by taking a big breath and blowing out all the candles on your cake. Do that, and your fear turns into excitement. Do it more, and your excitement turns into exhilaration. I find it very empowering to know that I’m in charge of the exhilaration I feel as I go through life. I bet you will, too.”


And I find it fascinating that a shift between fear or excitement is just a breath away. Imagine being able to change your entire experience by simply controlling your breathing.

Why is this so? Let’s dive into these mechanisms and talk science. No worries I will keep it simple and clear.

Our Central Nervous System (CNS) is very sophisticated differentiated into several sub-systems one of them is our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS is a control system that acts largely unconscious and regulates our heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. The ANS is further divided into two contrasting yet complementary systems:

1. the Sympathetic Nervous system (SNS) aka “Fight or Flight”
2. the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) aka “Rest & Digest” or “Feed & Breed”.

For an analogy, one may think of the sympathetic division as the police responders and the parasympathetic division as the court system.

The ANS and its subsidiaries are controlled by the hypothalamus. Why is this important…? As part of the brain, the hypothalamus connects the ANS with our hormone secreting system called the Endocrine System. Which hormones are secreted depends on the information it receives. The hypothalamus is responsible for our survival, maintaining our bodies temperature, thirst, hunger, sleep, circadian rhythm, moods, and sex drive.

What does all this have to do with the breath, Will?
Oh yeah! and then there’s our breath.

Our Breath is something that we can learn to master and it use it for our betterment.

Take a ten DEEP breaths right now….yes, please do this and really feel it. These breath will felt your understanding. This is isn’t a thinking game it’s experiential. So experience it.  

Where did you feel your breath inflate first? Was it your chest or your abdomen?

If you’re breathing into your chest, you are living in a state of “Flight or Flight” and functioning through the SMS activating the Acute Stress Response. The Acute Stress Response (aka “flight-or-flight response.”) is a physiological contraction of the body that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to our survival. ‘Perceived’ being the key word here.

Our body when activated in this state is ready to fight or flee. (Check out the diagram to understand the anatomical shift.) This response is essential when we confront by a wild animal but unnecessary in a business meeting or speaking to a “loved” one.

When being “Stressed out” we become: dismissive (tunnel vision), defensive, aggressive, anxious (shaking), and are easily frustrated (anticipation).

What’s interesting is once we’ve had time to step away from this stressful event, to relax, and “take a breather”, isn’t it interesting how regretful we feel, at least I do, for treating someone that way. I typically end up in an apologetic conversation. Does  this sound familiar?

When we become more acquainted and practice mastery of our breath, our response to ourselves and the world changes dramatically.

Being mindful of our breath while deepening our inhales to our belly, then filling  the rest of your torso with air and also slowing our exhales (aka diaphragmatic breathing) we expand into “Rest & Digest.” activating the PSNS.

When activated, the PSNS restores us to homeostasis. (Why do you suppose you feel so wonderful after a relaxing vacation or after a yoga class?).

The main hormones released in this state are serotonin, the happiness hormone and oxytocin, the cuddle hormone or the love hormone. These chemicals signal the brain, the heart and muscles telling them to release their defenses and “chill-out” providing you an opportunity to live more peaceful, bond with others, establish trust, sleep deeper/longer, puts you in a  “good mood” and make more productive decisions.  (Give me some of that!)

So what’s it going to be: would you rather live in a fearful “Police” state of mind reacting to the world as a constant threat to your survival OR learn to master your breathing choosing a exhilarating, rational and compassionate mediation through the “court system” of our soul considering all options and making an informed choice?

Tools for Transformation:

There are hundreds of mindful breath practices. I suggest starting slow. Give yourself just five minutes in the morning and the evening to Sit, become more aware as you slow down and deepen your breathing. In the beginning All you need to do is focus on listening to it, or live it’s rise-and-fall feelings creates in your body. Inhale and exhale.  Work gently to slow and soften the experience without  strain or stress.


As you become more comfortable sitting, this could be a traditional seat or just sitting with your back away from the chair, increase the time working up to 15 minutes or more. You can also practice this lying in bed at night, placing your hand below your naval and dropping your inhale into your hand (caution: after about three minutes, this will most likely put you to sleep. I’m serious 🙂 ) Here is A Simple Breath Practice that I recorded. Try it!


Yoga: Putting it into Action!

Yoga asana is ALL about breathing. Get yourselves to a practice or go more frequently if you already do. Throughout the practice, a good yoga teacher will help you become more aware and understand the power and the peace of your breath. Listen, try, let go of expectations, let go of what it looks like and keep showing up. This is why yoga is called a “practice” and not sport, because each time you show up is an opportunity to learn and play a bit more.

Got for it!! Happiness is just a breath away!


I hope you’ve found this helpful. If you have any questions or are in need of help when you get stuck, make a comment, shoot me an email. And again, thank you! for your time and feedback.

@willnotfear

 

Will Schneider

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