Breathing for the less “enlightened”

Breathing. I’ve literally been doing since I was born, so I should know a thing or two about it, right? Yet, when it came to yoga, meditating, or calming down, being told to focus on my breath struck me as equal parts obvious and annoying. During those moments, it didn’t feel like I was getting any closer to a deeper stretch, everlasting peace or dissipating anger.

The reality is, awareness of, and the intentional use of one’s breath needs to be cultivated. I want to share with you a simple breathing exercise that can be used to get an emotional or physical grip, and to support other practices like yoga and mediation. My super awesome Yin yoga teacher, Joanne, uses this at the beginning of class and it’s very effective for shifting awareness and getting into a different mode.

The bonus? It’s not cheesy, weird or awkward. No loud noises or funny faces. It’s super practical, takes less than 2 minutes, and all you need to know is how to count.

If it even works in calming down my non-hippy boyfriend (to his surprise and relief) during a rare freak out then I’m sure it’s worth a try for you.

Here’s what you do. This is a variation of what is typically known as square breathing.

Your breathing will follow this pattern:

Breathe in – Hold – Breathe out – Hold

And you will do it to a count. To start, it will be a count of 4 for each.

In for 4 – Hold for 4 – Out for 4 – Hold for 4. Repeat this 5 times.

Then, change the count to:

In for 5 – Hold for 3 –Out for 5 – Hold for 3. Do this 3 times.

Change the count again to:

In for 6 – Hold for 1 – Out for 6 – Hold for 1. Do this 2 times.

Finally, breathe in and out without the pauses and pay attention to the quality of your breath and pace. By now, you should have a much longer breathing pattern and a break in your thoughts to allow for awareness of the present moment.

If meditation is a struggle for you, start with this exercise. It can be tough to calm and quiet the mind, which is why you’re told to focus on your breath. But what about the breath, exactly? This exercise gives the mind something concrete to work with so you’re not relying on sheer willpower or desire to focus.

So, the next time someone tells you to focus on your breath, instead of wanting to roll your eyes or huff in exasperation, hopefully this technique will come in handy for you to make it happen.

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