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Matt West shares how breathwork brings you back to joy

Don't forget to breathe

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You can call this a physical and mental aspect of mindfulness. While the practice itself may be physical in nature, it does have truly amazing mental benefits.

Physical, because it involves the innate actions of inhalation and exhalation. And mental because your mind and your breathing rate are always linked.

Just think about it, a rapid, out-of-control breath results in a rapid, out-of-control mind or vice versa.

During this challenging year my emotional stress, my nervous system was working overtime. This lead to an increase in my heart rate and tense muscles. Oftentimes my breathing became rapid and impacted my body overall.

However, I was not aware of the healing qualities that breathing holds. During 2020 I learned the benefits of breathwork. I learned that your breath can be used to deal with these fluctuations. This, in turn, results in muscle relaxation and less pressure on the nervous system.

According to a 2018 Study, when your breathing is calm and controlled, so is your mind, and ultimately reduces stress.

Here is how controlled breathing can help you achieve a a clear mind and open hear..

Breathing for Relaxation

Have you ever tried taking a really deep breath? Try it and you will feel more relaxed and less anxious right away.

You have no idea how powerful your breath is. Making breathing exercises part of your life can bring about significant improvement not only in your quality of breath, but also the quality of life. You will feel increased vibrancy and clarity that you may have been missing out on for years.

When practicing breathing, opt for calm breathing. Calm breathing basically involves breathing slowly and is very effective. It reduces physical symptoms such as panic attacks and anxiety. This is a therapy that can be practiced anywhere, anytime. With this technique, when you breathe to relax you actually teach yourself stress management.

And the importance of a calm and controlled mind in Zen habits cannot be undermined. Even people who don’t have a Zen lifestyle have been learning to control their breath for a long time. That’s because it has long been a method of calming the mind in mindful journaling and meditation. And now it’s even being used to quell anxiety and curb panic attacks in medical and psychiatric practices.

In essence, controlled breathing helps clear the mind and body of negativity. The same also activates the mind and soul. Ancient yogis have spent ages practicing and refining optimal breathing techniques. To them, breathing is the easiest and most natural way to release stress.

The Benefits

Breathing for relaxation holds massive benefits. There are many on a physical level such as detoxification. In fact, when you breathe, your body potentially releases about 70% of toxins.

Correct exhalation releases optimal carbon dioxide which also rids the body of toxins. As this constant state of detox takes place, your mind also clears out and you feel better.

In another area, breathing acts like a masseuse for your organs. The stomach, liver, pancreas all receive massage therapy when you breathe. The continuous movements of the diaphragm and abdomen during breathing allows circulation to improve and studies state that breathing helps strengthen muscles.

Proper oxygen supply also helps reduce the burden on the heart. When you breathe properly you make your lungs efficient. The lungs start receiving more oxygen which benefits the heart. This reduces pressure on the heart to deliver oxygen to the tissues.

On its benefits for the mind, proper breathing helps reduce tension, relaxes the mind and can even elevate your mood.

You know that when you’re in a state of anger, your body tightens and tenses and your breathing becomes shallow. As this happens, the supply of oxygen to the body diminishes. But learning to breathe correctly allows the oxygen to properly reach all parts of the body.

Likewise, breathing properly has even been connected to reducing the formation of clots. When you breathe purposefully, you allow tightened spots to soften. When this happens you are able to bring clarity as the body is relaxed.

You are also aware that when the mind is at ease you feel less emotional. With a content state of mind, there is a sense of strength Page | 19

that the body surpasses. In this way, breathing helps reduce emotional stress and the uneasy feelings that come with it.

So many of these effects of mindful breathing will make your Zen lifestyle even more effective. You know by now that when your mind is in tranquil state, your body will respond likewise. So here are a few techniques to relax you mind and body.

Zen Breathing Techniques

The principle behind this technique is to fill up your entire abdomen and chest with air. Fresh air should enter your body like a new life force and renew it. This internal process also stretches your spine, tones internal organs, and improves circulation throughout the body.

To do this, exhale completely so that everything hollows out. Following a short pause, inhale deeply. As you inhale feel your belly expand outward. Next, move your focus to your lower back and sides, filling them with air.

Once you’ve filled these with air, shift your focus to your ribcage filling the midsection of your abdomen. Allow your ribs to puff out.

Finally, fill your upper chest area all the way to your collarbones. This should also lift your heart as you come into a tall posture. This entire inhale may be done in a few quick seconds or stretched to an extended period of 15 or so seconds.

For the exhale, keep your chest lifted and your posture tall. Starting with the belly first, exhale and empty the belly. Then move toward your spine and empty the midsection. Round off the exhale with emptying the chest. Ideally, your exhale should be longer than your inhale or at least of equal length.

Bellows Breath

Inspired by yoga and other meditation techniques, this method can help improve alertness, clarify your mind and make you energetic.

If you feel lazy, hazy, or as if you’re moving in slow motion, try this breathing technique. Sitting up tall, relax your shoulders and take a few deep breaths in and out from your nose. Begin the bellows breath by exhaling through your nose. Follow by inhaling through the nose once again.

This practice should ensure that your breath comes from your diaphragm. As you breathe in and out, make sure to keep your head, neck, shoulders and chest absolutely still.

Complete one cycle of 10 breaths followed by a 15-30 second break. Start the next round with 20 breaths. Break and then do a final round of 30 bellows breaths.

This practice is best done first thing in the morning when you need to start your day off right. You can also do this during your mid-day slump or right before a workout session.

Breath Counting

This is a simple technique used in Zen practices to calm an active mind.

Start with abdominal inhales and exhales. At the end of the first exhale, make a mental note saying “one”. Inhale, exhale and mentally count “two”. Continue breathing until you reach “ten”. Next start counting backwards until you reach “one”. The point here is to keep track of the numbers so that your attention stays put and doesn’t detract.

This exercise is a strength building one for the mind. It removes distracting thoughts and builds concentration power. So if you’ve never given much thought to your breathing, now’s the time to get started.

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