Breathing naturally

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.

New Year blessings for you from The Well

May you breathe fully and easily.

May you fully inhabit your body with your awareness.

May you discern the difference between stress and relaxation.

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May you experience more and deeper relaxation.

May you experience just enough stress to keep you aware and safe.

May you delight in exploring how good you can feel.

 

May the relation between your diet and well-being become clear.

May the relation between your conscious and unconscious minds become clear.

May you soften to yourself and others.

 

May you seek help when needed.

May you feel gratitude for all the resources you have.

May you move toward happiness.

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May you notice shine, wherever it appears.

May inspiration find you frequently.

May you have compassion for yourself and others.

 

May you set boundaries and manage conflicts with love.

May you experience breakthroughs in maturity and insight.

May you be present in every possible moment.

10 things I love about massage

  1. Almost everyone loves massage and bodywork. It feels good and is nourishing to the body, mind, heart, and spirit.
  2. Caring touch, the basis of massage therapy, is probably the most ancient method of promoting well-being that human beings have used on each other.
  3. It’s the front line of health care. Massage therapists spend more time with their clients than most other health care providers.
  4. Your massage therapist gets to know you well. He or she may help you with alignment, posture, pain, emotional, breathing, self-worth, self-knowledge, and many more issues.
  5. If 90 percent of doctor visits are stress-related, why not just skip the doctor and get a massage? It is one of the healthiest ways to reduce stress that exists.
  6. There is no end to the methods of massage: Swedish, sports, deep, shiatsu, and more. Then there are branches: Rolfing, Trager, cranio-sacral, and more. A massage therapist can focus on mastering one method or practice several. Adventurous recipients can have a field day trying them all!
  7. Massage marries art and skill. Massage therapists have learned skills using specific methods and can also artfully mix and match techniques to meet your body’s needs.
  8. Studying massage includes studies in geeky subject matter, like anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pathology. Massage therapists use both their right and left brains when learning and giving massage.
  9. It’s one of the top 50 careers of 2011, according to US News and World Report. It’s expected to keep growing over the next decade.
  10. Massage by itself is great, and it partners well with changework. Say you’ve been struggling with an issue and have a breakthrough of some sort. You feel it in your body, right? Massage helps you integrate it more deeply, literally embodying the change.

Suggestions to relieve insomnia and get to sleep

A couple of months ago, I blogged about some exciting new research about insomnia. It seems that when we lie awake at night, unable to fall asleep, it’s because our brains are overheating. They tend to generate more warmth during the day and cool down at night.

So something happens that moves us out of this biorhythm and into the minor hell of insomnia (or major, if it goes on long enough). When you would like to be sleeping, the monkey mind grabs onto thoughts and won’t let go — generating heat in the brain and preventing sleep.

The researcher experimented with a cooling cap. It seemed to me that there were alternatives that were much simpler and more accessible.

Disidentify with your thoughts

First of all, disidentifying with your thoughts is a useful skill anyone can learn with a little practice. Thinking is what the mind does. It serves a purpose. It is not inherently bad.

The question is whether thinking is appropriate when you want to be sleeping. There’s thinking, and then there’s mind-running-amok.

To disidentify with those thoughts, you simply choose to focus your attention on your breath, or on sounds, sensations, rhythms, your weight against the sheets and pillow, a chakra, your whole body, a state of wonder, an image — find something that works for you. (All this stuff is happening all the time. “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans,” right?)

Notice that your thoughts are often about something that’s neither here nor now — they’re in the past or future. Bring your attention into the present moment. What are you actually experiencing?

Your mind may interrupt, but as you continue to focus on your present experience, it will interrupt less and less often, and you will fall asleep.

Also, notice whether that thing your monkey mind won’t let go of is something you have any control over. If you can’t influence it, give it up. Trickster is having fun with you. Just plain let go and hand it over to God, the Universe, Spirit (GUS will take care of it). Now go to sleep.

If you can influence it, unless it’s truly life-or-death, sleep on it and see what option comes to mind when you wake in the morning. In other words, pose the question “How can I influence this for the good of all involved?” Let your unconscious mind work and play with the situation while your conscious mind takes the restful break of sleep. When you wake, notice what comes to mind.

You may want to do some journaling.

Drink some cool, clear water

Drink a glass, or half a glass if your bladder wakes you up early, of water that is between room temperature and cool. Ice isn’t necessary — some people believe that ice is too cooling and not good for the human digestive system’s operations. After all, the human race has done pretty well without iced drinks for millenia upon millenia.

Take a mouthful of cool water, close your mouth, hold it for a bit, and then swallow.

You can also put a cool compress of a wrung-out washcloth on your forehead. Do both!

And, while you’re doing these things, think about the cowboy song Cool, Clear Water while you do this! Let water represent the sleep you want to experience.

Here’s a video of the original by the Sons of the Pioneers. Maybe you have a favorite version.

Yawn and open your mouth when you lie down to sleep

Since it’s currently believed that the purpose of yawning is to cool the overheated brain, yawn several times when you are ready to go to sleep.

Also, you can open your mouth just wide enough to let air (cooler than your body, of course) circulate in your oral cavity and cool the adjacent brain. Try parting your teeth half a finger-width.

Continue to breathe through your nose, not your mouth, unless you have nasal congestion.

Use acupressure to reduce heat

I shared this with my bodyworker/acupuncturist Patrice Sullivan, who got excited and shared with me some of the pressure points that reduce heat, because in Chinese medicine’s understanding of health, the body can get out of balance and have too much heat — and of course this can affect the brain.

Press into pressure points with a fingertip or pencil eraser to stimulate them, unblock meridians, and release heat. Press briefly and see what happens. Then try pressing steadily for 30 second to 2 minutes.

The list below includes the poetic names of the points for fun. You may want to google each point to view a graphic with more precision about the location.

  • Gallbladder 42 and 43, Earth Fivefold Convergence and Clamped Stream, are on the foot between the fourth and fifth metatarsals.
  • Liver 2, Moving Between, is on the top of the foot between the first and second toes before the webbing starts.
  • Gallbladder 34, Yang Hill Spring, is outside the knee, in a depression just below the head of the fibula (smaller lower leg bone) toward the front.
  • Heart 7, Spirit Gate, is on the hand on the crease of the wrist closest to the hand, in line with the ring finger.
  • Large Intestine 11, Crooked Pond, is located at the end of the outer elbow crease.
  • Governing Vessel 20, Hundred Convergences, is at the crown of the head.

Report back so others may benefit

I’d love to be wrong about this, but in my opinion, Big Science is probably not going to fund research on simple, effective ways to relieve insomnia unless they can make money off it by selling you something they’ve patented. So it’s up to us to figure out what works and let others know.

Please feel free to try any or all of these methods to relieve insomnia and please report back on what worked and didn’t work for you in the comments for this post.

Thank you.

Equinox

Twice a year there’s a 24-hour period when the day and the night are of equal length. These are the equinoxes, spring and fall. Today is the fall equinox for 2011.

These two days are pauses in the changing of the seasons. You might as well put everything on hold, at least for a bit, and just breathe in some balance.

I like the idea of using these days to pause and rest from all the striving, trying, making progress (or not), moving toward goals, moving away from whatever. I can give today the direction of center.

If you’d like to play along, just pretend that you have arrived at your destination in this lifetime, and just now, at this moment, imagine that you have become the person you want to be.

Okay, now do it. Breathe in your arrival, settle into that, and exhale.

What does that feel like? Did it shift anything for you?

Tears came into my eyes when I first thought that thought earlier today. It literally gave me pause. So much striving, so much struggle. It’s been hard sometimes.

It’s so nice to give myself a break and just rest in exactly who and where I am in life.

I wish you a most restful equinox.