Tag: chest

The Art of Breathing

The Art of Breathing

Breathing is life. All beings breathe. If breathing stops, physical life ends.  

Breathing is therefore an essential aspect of life. All beings breathe naturally, in the proper way, except, perhaps, human beings. Human beings breathe normally when they are newborns, and when they are still young, until about the age of five.  

Then, as they grow up, they start to learn the wrong way of breathing. 

Breathing Correctly

The normal and healthy way of breathing is abdominal breathing, or also called diaphragmatic breathing or horizontal breathing. It is the method of breathing used in meditation and yoga. It uses the diaphragm as the main muscle for breathing in and out.  

In abdominal breathing, the diaphragm flattens when we breathe in, thus expanding the space in the chest wall. Outwardly, we see the expansion of the chest wall. The abdomen moves out as well. When we exhale, the diaphragm curves upward, reducing the space in the chest wall. Thus, we see the chest wall shrinks and the abdomen sucks in.    

This way of breathing gives the maximum uptake of oxygen on inhalation, and the maximum expulsion of carbon dioxide in exhalation. Thus, the body gets enough oxygen for the entire system, improving oxygenation to the circulatory system, the brain, the organs and enhancing the immune system.  

In addition, the expulsion of carbon dioxide reduces the acidic environment. Acidic environment is more harmful to the immune system as well as to the cells, thereby increasing the risks of inflammation, infections and mutations.  

Breathing Wrongly

On the other hand, the wrong way of breathing is called vertical breathing or chest breathing. It works by using the shoulder and chest muscles to pull up the chest wall, providing only small expansion of the lungs. The breaths are shallower, resulting in poor intake of oxygen as well as poor expulsion of carbon dioxide. Thus, we need to take more breath, making the body work more, and putting the body in a permanent fight or flight mode. 

This wrong way of breathing can lead to body ache, back ache, digestive problems, sleep problem, and tension in the body, reducing our immunity.  

How can we un-learn the wrong way of breathing? We do that by consciously reminding ourselves to breathe correctly, using our diaphragm, as often as possible.  

Breathing in Meditation 

In meditation, breathing serves another function. It is used as an object of meditation.  

We do that by placing our attention on the process of breathing. We keep our attention on the breathing process continuously, for as long as possible. If we get distracted, we simply bring our attention back to the breathing process each time our attention strays.  

There is nothing else we need to do except keep our attention and awareness on the breath. There is no need to control the breathing process. Just watch it.  

In the beginning, we will notice that the breathing is coarse and the body is tensed. As we continue to watch it, over time, the breathing will settle down on its own. It becomes more subtle, more relaxed. And it will continue to become more and more subtle as time passes.  

At first, it is as if we need to put in the effort to breathe to live. In the end, as the breathing becomes more and more subtle, it is as if life is breathing through us, effortlessly. It may even reach a state where the breath is almost undiscernible. 

As the breathing settles down, the mind also settles down on its own accord. Thinking becomes slower. Thoughts become fewer. Mind becomes calmer, and clearer.  

This is how we use breathing in meditation to bring us to a state of calm and tranquility.