Given that one of my investigations is to find out how relaxed I can get and still be awake, I have something to share. I’ve become aware that some of us do not breathe naturally, and I think it could be keeping our nervous symptoms from experiencing the relaxing, healing benefits of going into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state of the autonomic nervous system.
I imagine everyone is aware that breathing is a function that we have some control over, and also that when we don’t pay it any attention, the breath will continue on its own, unconsciously. We may be told how to control our breathing in yoga or meditation classes, or in voice or speech classes, and some students may then infer that these ways of using the breath are somehow better than normal breathing and adopt them into their everyday lives.
Stress and trauma affect our breathing too, and unfortunately for many, living with stress has become a way of life, at least temporarily. The breathing pattern, however, may remain disordered.
We may also adopt a disordered way of breathing due to pollution and attempts not to inhale smog, smoke, aromas, dust, pollens, and so on. Some people who believe they have asthma may actually have a breathing pattern disorder.
There are many benefits to learning how to breathe naturally. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned and experienced myself regarding breathing.
First of all, the natural relaxed breath does not have a rhythm like a metronome, where inhalations and exhalations are regular and evenly paced. Yes, when we exert ourselves, our lungs work rhythmically to bring in the oxygen and release the carbon dioxide that our bodies need.
The relaxed breath is different.
If you have an opportunity to watch an infant or young child breath when asleep, you will notice that sometimes the breath is like that, with regular inhalations and exhalations. And sometimes it’s not. The child may take a fuller breath. There may be pauses between breaths when it seems they skip a breath. This is not like sleep apnea, which is a disorder where people struggle to get enough oxygen in their sleep.
Some of these pauses can last for awhile, but the inhalation does return. (If it happens a lot, see a specialist.)
Thank you to Dr. Fritz Smith, founder of Zero Balancing, for educating me on this in Inner Bridges and classes.
This pattern — sometimes regular, occasionally with bigger breaths and pauses — is what I mean by natural relaxed breathing.
I noticed in meditation that sometimes I lightly controlled my breathing. This is probably something I adopted from a yoga class years ago or from meditation instructions.
I wanted to stop doing that and breathe naturally. What I did was check in with my breath, pause after an exhalation, and simply allow the next inhalation to arise on its own. I’d repeat that cycle a few times, and then I would move my attention to something else. I did this a couple of times a day for a few days. My body took to this more relaxed, effortless way of breathing, and I don’t manipulate my breathing any more unless I consciously want to. Natural breathing has become easy and joyful.
I’m not saying that breathing exercises are bad or not to do them. I’m glad to know that I can influence my autonomic nervous system with my breath, because sometimes I want to calm down quickly (by lengthening my exhalations), and other times I want to quickly increase my alertness (by lengthening my inhalations). I also love nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) for calming and balancing.
What is particularly bringing me joy now is something that happens when I’ve been meditating for awhile. (I’m guessing at least 30 minutes.) Sitting still means the body doesn’t require as much oxygen as when active, and my breath naturally slows and gets shallower. Often, my breath gets so light that I can’t tell if I’m inhaling or exhaling.
Watching my breath doesn’t change it. There’s a principle in physics that when you observe an object, it changes the object’s behavior. But when you are in a non-dual state, everything is one, and there is no separation between subject and object. It’s a marker, if you like.
I may segue into a state where I am simply being breathed. There is no effort. There is no will. The breath rises and falls on its own, and I simply witness. Source takes over, and I surrender. I feel touched by the sublime.