Have you ever watched a Buddhist monk, or a sensual South American, or someone in your life, walk or move in a way you envied because they looked so at ease in their body?
That quality is what we’re after in one of our main breathing-retraining practices: Moving at a comfortable pace.
How can we plot a course to get there? Very practically, one way is by breathing through our nose most of the time rather than gasping through the mouth — while eating, talking, sleeping, exercising…even experiencing hard feelings
This breathing principle can be incredibly challenging for many because of the fast-paced environment and inherent stress most of us are living under.
A 25-Year Journey To Relax
More than 20 years ago before I had adult responsibilities, I spent six months in India. As soon as I arrived, a civil war started between Hindus and Muslims, and I decided the safest thing to do for the time-being was stay put at my first landing spot — the small Buddhist village of Bodh Gaya where there was no trouble.
Bodh Gaya is the town where the Buddha is said to have found enlightenment. I learned to meditate. There was nothing else to do. I stayed at a monastery that took in pilgrims for more than a month.
One day I was cleaning my room and washing clothes at a brisk pace for about 40 minutes, and a local man remarked, “Oh, you’re very busy today!” That’s just the way I did things. The agenda for the rest of that day, and every other day, was to drink chai, eat meals, hang out and go to meditation class.
That trip to India gave me food for thought for a long time afterward about my approach to life. Just by being there I was catapulted to an environment where I was affluent by local standards and could do whatever I wanted. I could live well on $12 a day and I had no schedule, no ticket home. Despite having plenty of money and time, I did not feel relaxed. My asthma acted up a lot also and I came down with walking pneumonia in Delhi.
Fast forward to last summer, after I’d practiced the Buteyko Breathing Technique for several years. I was at a Girl Scout family camp with my daughter, where each day included several 10-minute walks across the property to meet up with her at the swimming pool, stable or art room.
During those walks I practiced moving slowly enough to feel comfortable and it wasn’t coming easy that week. I was tense because we were having more conflict than I would like on vacation. Then one day toward the end, we joined a group walking to the dining hall, and the pace was slow enough that I got it! It hadn’t occurred to me to slow down that much on my own.
I’m Not Alone
Most people start breathing retraining because something about their breathing is uncomfortable enough to lead them to want to change it.
Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, developer of the anti-hyperventilation breathing technique that bears his name, attributed mastery with relaxation.
“The essence of my method is in decreasing the depth of breathing,” he wrote. “You would ask me how. The best way is through relaxation of the muscles that potentiate the breathing action.”
Many people do not relax easily.
“What we know so far is to over-activate the body and mind, and then to shut off completely,” said an unattributed article about deep rest and Jin Shin Jyutsu on www.OpenDharma.com.
How can we move to the middle ground and harmonize and balance ourselves in real time physically, mentally and spiritually?
The same article talks about nurturing self-motivation and restfulness, like “the effort required to hold a rose petal in the palm of your hand: not much strength is needed, but rather a continuity of remembrance like a river.”
Skillfully Making An Effort To Relax
“Most of us know how to make effort based on tension,” it says. We can experiment with making “reversed effort”, or effort based on relaxation.
How do you do this?
- Practice doing something just because you want to, not because you have to or you should.
- Immerse yourself in what you most love to do.
- Lay down for a half-hour every day and do absolutely nothing — not making a to-do list, not reading, not listening to music.
- I have been drawn to a couple bodywork modalities recently that are based on non-force, actually the lightest touch, and still achieve great relief — Cranial Sacral Therapy, the Rosen Method, Jin Shin Jyutsu.
Slowing Down Creates Space
Often students leave a breathing-retraining class wondering how they’re going to make time to practice healthy breathing habits. It can be a very courageous act to do these practices in the world.
It means taking a pause to breathe properly while you’re talking even at the risk of someone else jumping in before you’re finished.
It means stopping screaming between rooms at home to communicate with your family because that depletes energy.
It means taking a break during the work day (with the knowledge that it will lead to more overall productivity and results) even though it’s not politically correct.
It means moving slower at the gym than most others to retain a connection to your breathing.
Breathing Retraining: More Than Just A Set of Exercises
I’ve read statistics that 90% of Americans have some chronic health condition caused at least in part by over-breathing, and a high percentage of emergency-room visits involve hyperventilation.
Most people don’t come to my office because they choose to relax or start a nasal-breathing program. They have another objective. Relaxation is the road to get there.