A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years. -Swami Sivananda
Have you heard people say, “just breathe?” I bought a sweatshirt this year with the expression on it. It spoke to me and my longing for relaxation in this crazy pandemic world. Often, during the course of publishing my first book, my publisher would say, “Just breathe,” to calm my fears of the unknown. I use the saying with my son. But really? What an odd expression in that of course we’re going to breathe.
There is so much more to the expression then it appears at first and it dates back to some ancient practices: yoga, Qi Gong and meditation. In fact, all the great esoteric conditions point back to breath. Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity. Islam. Yogis. The ancients pointed at it and really understood the power of breath to heal.
Breathing in Yoga
According to Amarjit Singh, a yoga instructor and life coach, “It is said that if you breathe 15 times per minute, you will live to 75 or 80 years. If you breathe 10 times per minute you will live to 100. The speed at which you breathe will dictate the length of life. If you breathe fast, your life will be shortened. This is why dogs have short lives.”
In yoga, you are instructed to “breathe consciously,” and be aware of your inhalation, retention of breath and exhalation. It is through this practice that you can have a biological effect on your mental, emotional, and physical state. Conscious breathing has an effect on the cerebral cortex, which regulates stress levels and relaxation.
In the early 2000s, I took Kundalini Yoga classes at the University of Wisconsin Madison Memorial Union and we would chant Sat on the inhale, and Nam on the exhale. These words represented sacred sounds of the breath and translates roughly to God’s Name Is Truth or True Identity. Satnam is a form of mantra meditation that is said to bring you into a state of higher consciousness.
Breathing in Qi Gong
Qi Gong is a centuries-old system of coordinated body-postures and movement, breathing, and meditation used for the purposes of health, spirituality, and martial-arts training, in the same family as Tai Chi. Its roots are in Chinese medicine where qi gong is described to cultivate and balance “qi” (pronounced Chee) or life energy. The movements are described as “flow” because they follow each other like moving water.
According to the Energy Arts web site, “Qi Gong breathing is based on Taoist breathing methods that focus on returning the way we breathe to what is in harmony with nature. These methods focus on creating a circular breath that starts from the belly and is relaxed. These methods can be practiced sitting or while doing any of the (Qi Gong) exercises.”
Qi Gong breathing is called, “belly breathing,” and it is said to be like a massage of your internal organs and it improves circulation.
Breathing in Meditation
As the foremost authority on the subject, the Buddha himself recognized and emphasized the importance of the breath, once saying "being sensitive to the whole body, the yogi breathes in; being sensitive to the whole body, the yogi breathes out." Buddha taught attention to the breath as a fundamental (and essential) meditation technique.
According to the EOC Institute’s web site,“ When we focus our full attention on the breath — a funny thing happens, we find that our busybody conscious mind (that takes in 70,000 thoughts a day) takes a backseat, and our powerful (yet much quieter) subconscious mind runs the show.”
According to Tracey Stover of Breathing Mandala (breathingmandala.com), whom I interviewed for this article, “Every breath is an opportunity to transform your life. Restriction in your breath is related to suppressed emotions and stuck energy; and is expressed as stress in your body and mind. With a free flowing breath pattern your mind knows peace, your body thrives, and you will live into life’s unlimited opportunities.”
So what is the key to a good breath? “A full deep breath is engaging the diaphragm. This is essential,” Tracey said. “Put your hands by your belly button and feel the belly gently move. Breathe through your mouth.” A full deep breath will invigorate the system. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with a gentle sigh. Softly. Think of a wave on a shore. Waves comes up and go out. Up and down. No control. We want to simulate the water.”
On the surface, Tracey specializes in teaching others how to use the breath for relaxation and a sense of wholeness, but she does much more than that.
Tracey she explained that in her business the key is really to help people to wake up. She said breathing and thinking are always dancing together. “The other half of my work is to inquire what people are thinking. If someone lives in fear and has cancer for example, it will not heal.”
Get thinking lined up and the breath to match it for good health. As we spin on negative stories (Life is hard. Money doesn’t grow on trees.) we keep perpetuating a difficult life. We have to change our thinking. “Consciousness is the driver. Breath is the vehicle,” she said.
More and more people are curious about the effects of thinking on your life. The author Florence Scovel Shinn was an author in 1925, and she addressed it head on in her book, “The Game of Life and How to Play It.” Napoleon Hill wrote about it in “Think and Grow Rich,” and it is a premise of Wayne Dyer’s book, “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.” Finally, if you’re looking for more references, read “The Strangest Secret,” by Earl Nightingale.
So the next time someone tells you to, “Just Breathe,” thank them for the reminder. Take a deep breathe and end with a sigh. Then check your thoughts and adjust as necessary. You will be in good company and on to a healthier, happier you.