Breath awareness – a step by step guide to body, breath and mind connection
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Breath awareness – a step by step guide to body, breath and mind connection

Breathing

“Breathing is the essence of yoga.” Vanda Scaravelli

 

Cultivating breath awareness is key for developing stillness and peace of mind. It’s simple really, all we need to do is pay attention to the experience of breathing in, and pay attention to the experience of breathing out. And yet for most of us this is the hardest part; being still and attentive to the breath in each given moment. Perhaps the thing we struggle with most in life is stillness? Is it easier for us to be constantly moving, in body and in our thoughts? The answer is most likely yes, because at our stillest moments we are usually watching television, reading a book or engaging in some kind of activity or interaction, or we are asleep.

 

How often have you sat or lay down and followed your breath cycle for several rounds or minutes? Have you noticed what happens when you allow yourself time to do just that? To sit, follow the breath and observe the sensations or feelings that arise as a result? Because, if you did you will go there time and time again. In those breath cycles is a connection to the present moment, both within and without.

 

Let’s look at why establishing a breath awareness practice is something that we would all benefit from

 

The breath and the mind are deeply interwoven through a thread of signals and responses in the nervous system. When we stop thinking, our breathing slows down, and when we are excited our breath will shorten and become faster or irregular. We can therefore work with the breath in order to influence our state of mind. Slow, mindful breathing can help to reduce tensions and stresses in the body and has the potential to reduce levels of anxiety or fears that are both bodily and emotional.

 

What happens when we begin to slow our breathing down?

 

The body will respond as if we are giving it a great big hug, and we instantly feel a little calmer. When we begin to develop awareness of the breath whilst also noticing where it has its place in our bodies, we can direct the mind to focus on these sensations instead of the internal chatter that it wants to keep going back to time and time again.

 

That’s not to say those internal conversations and distractions wont keeping coming to take us away. They will always be there. It’s just given the choice to go back to something that helps you to focus and calm yourself in any given situation, we’re more likely to go there instead. The practice cultivates a heightened state of awareness as we learn how to work with the breath in order to influence our state of body and mind in order to help release unnecessary tensions.

Grant yourself time and space to explore a breath awareness practice

A breath awareness practice takes time, and patience. Start with a short 3 minute seated or lying practice to begin of simply noticing that you are breathing in, and out through your nostrils. When the mind starts to wander keep coming back to the act of noticing your breath. Each time a thought arises, notice what it is, acknowledge it is there, and then set it aside and come back to the breath, this will happen over and over again.

 

This is the first step towards meditation; focusing on a one-pointed object, in this instance the object is the breath as a felt experience. Over time place your hands on your chest, and then on your abdomen and become aware of the sensations in your body as you breath in and out through your nostrils. The practice begins to layer itself gradually. Below is a step by step guide to a breath awareness practice, which you can also take with me via the online 9 minute video tutorial provided with this article.

 

Seated practice for breath awareness, step by step:

 

  1. Sitting onto a chair, or lying down on your back. Take support where you feel is needed in order for your position to be as comfortable and alert as is possible.
  2. Get grounded and settle into your position, connect more evenly towards the earth. Let your spine become elevated and shoulders spacious as your hands rest over your heart space (centre of chest).
  3. Draw your chin in lightly towards your throat, feel how the back of your neck responds.
  4. Bring your awareness to your breathing rhythm. Notice a how you are breathing in each moment.
  5. With a natural breath become aware of your chest rising and expanding lightly as your lungs fill with air. As you breathe out feel how your chest softens as the air leaves your lungs.
  6. Take 6-8 breaths here, pausing often to observe.
  7. Then lower your hands to your abdomen and feel your breath in your belly as it expands away from your spine, on the exhale feel how your belly softens and draws back, almost hollowing back towards the lower spine.
  8. Take 6-8 breaths here, pausing often to observe.
  9. When you feel you have established a deeper connection to the breath, integrate further with the spine by inhaling arching your torso forwards as you roll onto the front of sit-bones, as if you are propping yourself up, your chest lifts further away from your pubic bone.
    (if you are practising on your back bend your knees and take this part of the practice with your feet on the floor. Tilting the pelvis up on the inbreath, arching the spine away from the ground, and lowering down on the outbreath, flattening your spine towards the ground.) 
  10. On the exhalation round into your spine towards the wall behind you as your chest and pubic bone move closer towards one another, rolling onto the back of your sit-bones.
  11. Continue to breath and link the two ranges of movements along the spine, lifting and arching on the inhale, rounding and drawing into yourself on the exhale.
  12. Take 6-8 breaths here, pausing often to observe.
  13. Upon completion, settle into stillness and notice how you feel physically by bringing awareness to the sensations along your spine and across your chest and abdomen.
  14. Observe your deep connection towards the breath and notice what arises as a result of your practice. You may even like to make some notes based on your experience. Notice any shifts in energy and observe your bodily and mental response.

 

Once you become familiar with taking a regular breath awareness practice, you’ll find it easier to slip into at any given time when you are feeling tense, or stressed in some way, as a means to bringing you into the present moment and towards a place of inner calm and stillness.

 

I hope you enjoy the practice and time that you provide yourselves with to explore the more subtle experiences you may encounter. If you would like to join me for further explorations of accessible movement supported by the breath, you can do so by joining me in my online classes.

 

Thank you once again,
Helen x

“Breathing is one of the simplest things in the world. We breathe in, we breathe out. When we breath with real freedom, we neither grasp for or hold on to the breath. No effort is required to pull the breath in or to push the breath out…The process of breathing is the most accurate metaphor we have for the way that we personally approach life, how we live our lives, and how we react to the inevitable changes that life brings us.”

 

Donna Farhi; The Breathing Book