Conscious Breathing – the Breath of Life

One of the signs of the evolution in human consciousness has been the growth of the self-help movement, as people begin to take more responsibility for their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.  There are thousands of self-help methods available that claim to help you to do anything from lose weight to ascend to a higher dimension.

The most common element that nearly all of these methods share is a focus on conscious breathing, usually as a tool to help you relax before going into the method’s actual practice.  Despite this ubiquity, breathing itself is often underrated.  Having used many self-help methods over many years, I am convinced that ultimately the most valuable self-help tool is breathing itself. One of the reasons that I was drawn to the teachings of the Crimson Circle is the fact that conscious breathing is the main method that they recommend above all others.

As humanity begins to move into new energy, many methods that may have worked well in the past are no longer as effective as they once were.  In some ways much of the new age movement can get stuck in a similar mindset to the religions that it claims to supersede, as they emphasise and hang onto their methods as gospel, when a lot of these methods were only meant to be stepping stones on the evolutionary path.

Breathing is one of the few methods that continues to be important in the spiritual realms.  This may seem surprising, as even those of us who have a conscious spiritual awareness probably tend to think of breathing as being a mainly physical exercise,  and that once we let go of this mortal coil it is no longer needed.  Apparently this is not so, as a form of breathing continues with our consciousness after death.  This should give us a clue that when we breathe there is a lot more happening than just the intake of oxygen and nitrogen and the expulsion of carbon dioxide.  Yoga and other Eastern philosophies teach that what we breathe in is the essential spiritual life force that is the connecting and empowering energy for the whole universe.  In India it is known as prana, and in China as chi or ki.   The philosophy of Breatharianism is based on this idea, such that conscious breathing of prana energy can be utilised to sustain the physical body without the need to ingest food.

Breathing consciously is the most powerful way to move stuck energy.  This can work in all four of the aspects of our beings:  physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  Physically it releases stress and tension and helps to increase body awareness.  Due to the influence particularly of science and also Western society in general, we tend to believe that it all happens in our minds, such that we become captive to our minds and lose contact with the body.  While breathing consciously it is difficult to keep a mental focus.  This is very useful because to take away the focus on the mind for just a few minutes on a regular basis both releases mental tension and begins to break the hold that the mind can have on us to the detriment of the other three equally important aspects.  Breathing is also one of the best tools for releasing negative and blocked emotions, and it facilitates spiritual awareness.  By inhaling consciously we draw the essential life force into our whole being more effectively.  By exhaling consciously we express this divine energy out into the world.

As breathing is something that we’ve all done all our lives, you would think that we would at least know how to breathe properly.  But I have found through my massage practice – particularly shiatsu massage – that many people don’t breathe properly, including some who have practiced yoga or tai chi or similar methods that normally place a heavy emphasis on the breath.

As our lungs are located in the chest area, it is natural to think that breathing by expanding the chest is efficient.  But this is not so.  The lungs are pear-shaped, and chest breathing only draws air into the top one-third of the lungs.  To actually fill the lungs with air requires you to breathe using the diaphragm and the belly.  The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits below the lungs, and is one of the most important and underrated muscles in the body.  It is the only muscle that works both vountarily and involutarily, keeping us breathing while asleep.  This dual ability means that the diaphragm is a link between the unconscious and the conscious mind.  The lungs themselves have no muscles, so require the diaphragm to contract downwards, creating space in the lungs which draws in air.  If you rely on expanding your chest to breathe deeply, the diaphragm does not contract downwards much, so less air is drawn into the lungs.  It is also more work to expand the chest than it is to contract the diaphragm, so the lesser amount of oxygen that is drawn in when chest breathing is also utilised less effectively.

A useful exercise is to sit or lie comfortably, with one hand on the chest and the other hand on the belly.  Loosen the clothes around your waist.  Breathe deeply, and take notice of which hand moves more as you breathe in and out.  If the hand on your chest is moving more, then you are not breathing deeply or filling the lungs with air.  Practice pushing your belly out as you breathe in, until the hand on your belly moves more than the hand on your chest.  It might feel strange at first, but you will be filling your lungs with air and providing your body with as much as 200% more usable oxygen.

This belly breathing might need to be practiced on a regular basis for quite a time before it becomes second nature, as the bad habits of a lifetime do not usually break easily.  Western fashion and social norms are not helpful, as we are all encouraged to hold our belly in and stick our chest out.  Many types of clothing do not make belly breathing comfortable.  Since I have practiced conscious breathing I tend to favour clothes that are looser and have elastic waists.

But these minor inconveniences are far outweighed by the benefits of conscious breathing :

Over time you will find that you will be more relaxed and calm in the face of stress.

Breathing consciously and regularly will give you some emotional detachment from other peoples’ dramas, enabling you to act from a place of true compassion rather than being dragged into an expected emotional reaction.

You will begin to feel a stronger connection to your body and will become more aware of its needs.

In moments when your mind is overwhelming you with repetitive and negative thoughts and their accompanying fear-based emotions, being able to stop and breathe deeply will help to release such thoughts and emotions, so you will become more aware of your deeper feelings.  The diaphragm is the physical bridge through which your gut and your heart communicate.  It enables your intuition and true feelings to connect with one another.

Conscious breathing connects us to the present moment.  When you maintain a focus on your breath it is difficult to dwell in the past or worry about the future for any length of time.

Deep breathing facilitates spiritual growth, particularly if combined with meditation.  This will become more important for all of us, as one of the results of the current acceleration in the evolution of human consciousness is that the veil between the physical and spiritual dimensions is getting thinner. More and more people are beginning to have experiences of the spiritual realms.  To be able to breathe consciously and deeply at will is the best tool for integrating such experiences.

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