Big Breath = Big Life
Little Breath = Little Life

“Breathing is the first act of life and the last”.  Joe Pilates

The human body can survive without water for about a week.    Gandhi survived for 21 days without food.   Brain cells begin to die after 1 minute without oxygen.  Serious brain damage begins after about 3 minutes. Of course there are always exceptions to this “rule” as in the case of “free divers”.  They train specifically to increase the body’s ability to absorb and stock pile oxygen while decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood stream.  It can allow them to remain submerged under water for up to 22 minutes.   Rare indeed.   For the rest of us, we need to breathe on the regular. Period. Or we die.  We breathe 17-30,000 times a day.    We breathe without a thought.  It’s autonomic, a built in safety mechanism so if we loose consciousness we still continue to breath.  The quality of this automatic pilot breathing is probably inconsistent at best.   You may have patterns of pauses or shallow breathing.  Now, if a deer jumps out in front of your car while your doing 60 MPH, your respiration increases and activates your nervous system and you have what’s called a fight or flight response….. run away!    You are now on high alert.  You can shift from “high alert activation” by shifting your breathing.  By deepening and lengthening your inhales and exhales you can access a calm and collected state of mind, a calm and collect state of being.   Mastery of your breath will change your life!

Our breath is one of the surest signs of vitality and good health.    Joseph Pilates called the lungs the “cemetery of the body”, the dumping ground and polluter of our health and wellbeing.  Pilates is intended to make us better “breathers” and to detox our body.    He’d say, “Above all, learn to breathe correctly”.    Though the lungs do the work of distributing of oxygen to the rest of the body, it’s the diaphragm that does the heavy lifting.  They act as the pump that draws the good air in and squeezes the old air out.

As many different types of breathing practices are there are that many thoughts about the “correct” way to breathe.    Meditation in the simplest form is using the breath to control or manage the “monkey mind”.   You know, when your mind keeps jumping from one thought to another.   By staying present in the moment and continually returning your attention to your breath you can begin to accessstillness and peace.

Final thought.  If you notice that you are holding your breath, soften your shoulders and relax your eyes.   If you are feeling agitated or overly stimulated, bring your awareness internally and do a body scan to see what’s going on.    Is there tension or tightness you’re holding?   If so, use the super powers of your breath, and let it all go.   

Here’s a list of 5 qualities of “good” breathing:

Breath that’s deep.
Breath that’s smooth and doesn’t fluctuate.
Breath that’s even.  Keep your inhales and exhales are the same length.
Breath that is continuous and flows together – inhale connects to your exhale.
Breath that’s quiet.

Nancy Anderson