How Breathing Saved My Life
Have you ever think about your breathing? Unless you are a yoga teacher or a meditation practitioner, you most probably haven’t considered the importance of breath, and for a while neither did I. After all, it’s just an automatic habit that we perform without thinking or any particular discipline.
The first memory I have about the idea of breathing and how it can affect our lives was in middle school. One of my classmates described the symptoms of anxiety, and how being a mouth breather was caused by her being anxious and stressed. I remember thinking that maybe it is the other way around. Possibly, breathing from your mouth causes anxiety, I then let that thought go and continued with my life. I spent a lot of years dancing and engaging in sports, and, as an active person, I always had trouble catching my breath. My blood pressure was unstable and I suffered from arrhythmia from a young age.
Later in life, I totally disconnected from my body and focused on the intellect and studying, later entering a corporate environment. My adult lifestyle led to high levels of anxiety, depression, and subsequently alcoholism to deal with said anxiety. This self-destructive lifestyle did not last long since my body collapsed and showed me what I was doing was causing damage. Continuous panic attacks and unstable sleep patterns made it unbearable for me to live my life comfortably. My first breathing exercise was the box breathing technique performed by navy SEALs, one of the most effective and straightforward techniques to help you lower your heart rate, reduce anxiety, and increase concentration momentarily. Box breathing, or square breathing, stimulates the parasympathetic system by increasing blood CO2. This technique can help instantly switch your brain from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” mode.
How breathing regulates your life
My breathing patterns caused an agitated nervous system which subsequently caused inflammation and chronic pain. I first understood this during my Vipassana retreat, when all my attention was on my breathing for ten hours a day. Without any self-judgment, and with an open heart, I focused on each breath and exposed some of the patterns that caused the shallow breathing. Every time my mind would wander to the past, to some traumatic experience, I would simply stop breathing for a while. My heartbeat would increase and my sympathetic nervous system would activate. My amygdala would send a distress signal, the hypothalamus would activate the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals to the adrenal glands, and these would respond by pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream. All this process occurred in a matter of a few seconds. Who would have thought that breath retention would have caused such a chain reaction?
After unraveling more and more patterns I understood how my breath regulates all that I am. As wisely mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Padripika: ” As long as there is breath in the body, there is life.”
Transformation inside and out
After completing my Yoga Teacher Training, I focused most of my practice on the improvement of the breath and incorporating my newly acquired techniques into my student’s lives effectively by creating new neural pathways, and retraining the brain response during stressful events. The respiratory system is our tool to purify the body, soul, and intellect. By changing the rate, depth, and quality of your breath, you can transform your entire life.
By increasing our lung capacity we detoxify our body and alkalize the blood. Some of the benefits of an alkaline body include reduced inflammation, a balanced gut, mental clarity, all eliminating the probability of disease. For the energetic body, the benefits are equally important, cleansing the nadis (organs of the subtle body), opening the chakras for energy to flow through and from, attaining concentration, equanimity, and serenity. I invite you to close your eyes, look downwards toward your heart, and treat yourself to some deep, slow breaths. Allow the prana, the energy of All-there-is to flow in and out of your body equanimously. Homeostasis of your organism is immediately on the rise.
May you be healthy, peaceful, and liberated.
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