Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
The greatest strategy we have to offer for whenever you're feeling particularly frazzled, scattered, and out of balance is simply to return to relaxation breathing techniques. Like an anchor in the midst of a stormy sea, breath awareness is a balancing force for the mind, anchoring you in the present.
When under stress, most of us tend to breathe in short, shallow breaths, primarily by expanding our chests. This thoracic breathing is not the most efficient way to breathe. Not only does it prevent the lungs from filling and emptying completely, it can also contribute to increased muscle tension.During stressful situations, it is especially important that we breathe from our abdomen, not just our chest. Abdominal breathing relaxes the muscles, massages the internal organs, and allows more oxygen to energize our system.
The ideal times to practice this breathing relaxation technique is when you are feeling tense or anxious or in need of energizing your body or calming your mind. Just a few of these complete breaths are wonderfully calming and won't be noticed during a meeting or a phone call. This simple procedure is very effective.
- Sit comfortably with your spine straight.
- Exhale completely.
- Inhale very slowly, allowing the breath to enter effortlessly through your nose. At the same time push out your abdomen as though it were a balloon expanding. Move your chest as little as possible.
- After your abdomen is stretched, allow your chest to expand with air. This fills the middle part of your lungs.
- Allow your abdomen to pull in slightly, and your shoulders and collarbones to rise. This fills the upper part of your lungs.
- Gently hold your breath for a few seconds. At this point, every part of your lungs is filled.
- Slowly begin to exhale through your nose. Breathe abdominally by lifting your diaphragm and allowing your lungs to empty. Proper exhalation releases used air and opens space for fresh air to enter.
Though at first this way of breathing may feel awkward, once you become familiar with this breathing relaxation technique it can be done quite easily and comfortably.
This breathing relaxation technique is a quick way to dissolve tension and put yourself into a state of deep relaxation.
- Sit comfortably and relax, and bring your awareness to your breathing. As you breathe out, naturally dissolve and let go of all the negative energy that you wish to be free from. As you breathe in, allow the breath to naturally and effortlessly fill you with the positive qualities you want to be energized by. Allow the breath to fill you as a natural reflex to the deep exhalation.
- Think of a word that reflects the quality you wish to be filled with ?- for example, relaxing, harmonizing, balancing, energizing, peace, patience. See that particular quality as luminous energy that, as you inhale, rises within you, fills you and flows through you, completely permeating your body-mind. Allow this light energy to dissolve all your negative states of mind, tension, or pain. Allow the natural vitality of life to awaken within you.
- As you exhale, say to yourself dissolving, melting, releasing, or letting go. Feel the tensions, thoughts, cares, and painful states of body-mind flowing out of You and melting away. Emphasize the long, slow exhalation; then allow the inhalation to come naturally, effortlessly.
- Place your hands on your belly and quietly breathe in and out. Allow Your belly to gently rise and fall as the breath flows through you.
- After a few minutes, allow the breath, after naturally filling your belly, to rise up to the center of your chest and fill you as though a bubble of breath were filling you from within.
- Exhale through an imaginary hole in the center of your chest, and allow your heart to open...
- Breathing into your hands... bringing the air up to fill your heart...opening the heart... exhaling.., opening and letting go.
Sufi Breathing Relaxation Technique
The following series of Elemental Purification Breaths come to us through one of the lineages of Sufi teachings. This is a perfect focusing and centering practice to begin your day, and takes only the time of 25 breaths. It can be used as a short and simple meditation practice in itself, or as a warm-up breathing relaxation technique to focus the mind for another meditation practice you may choose to do.
- Begin by breathing naturally in and out through your nostrils for five full breath cycles. This first series of five breaths is focused on purifying your¬self with the element of earth. As you inhale, imagine that you draw the energy and magnetism of the earth up into you. It circulates through your subtle energy systems and replenishes and renews the vitality and strength of Your body.
- As you exhale, imagine that the magnetic field of the earth draws all the heavy, gross elements or energies within you down into the ground to be purified and released. With each breath, you feel revitalized, lighter, less dense, and clearer to the free flow of breath, life, energy.
- Then with a second series of five breaths, imagine purifying yourself with the energy of water. Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, envision a waterfall of pure, clear energy pouring down into you from the heavens above, flowing through you, and dissolving, purifyinganything within you that might block the flow of life-energy moving through you. With each breath, you are washed clean and clear, as this stream of energy and light flows through you.
- With the next series of five breaths, purify yourself with the element of fire. Inhaling through your mouth and exhaling through your nostrils, let the breath flow focus at your solar plexus as you inhale, and then rise up and radiate as light from your heart-center, shining out between your shoulder blades, and like a fountain of light up through the crown of your head. Inhaling fire, exhaling light, envision and affirm that this circulation of energy is a purifying fire gathering any remaining impurities or congestion and burning them into radiance and light in the fires of your heart.
- With the next cycle of breaths, imagine purifying yourself with the air element. Inhaling and exhaling through your mouth, imagine the air element sweeping through you like the wind blowing through the spaces of your whole body, purifying any sense of density or obstruction that may remain.
- Finally, breathing very gently through your nostrils, envision yourself being purified by the most subtle element -? the "ether" element of the ancients, or the most subtle energies that infuse space, or the quantum field of infinite potentials. Let this most subtle breath dissolve any remaining sense of solidity or density and let your heart and mind open to be clear and vast like the infinite sky.
- Energized and purified, sense the subtle, yet profound shift that has taken place in the course of only 25 breaths. Carry the sense of focus, calm, and deep connectedness from this practice into your next meditationor into your daily life.
[Adapted from the book "The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation" by Joel & Michelle Levey]
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