The quality of your breathing is the quality of your life in any given moment.
If your breathing is deep and peaceful, chances are you are calm, happy or comfortable. If your breathing is shallow and quick, you’re probably stressed or nervous. If it is deep and quick, you are physically exerting yourself. If it is hot and heavy, chances are you’re getting hot and heavy.
See what I mean?
Breathing is also recommended to cure a vast array of ills: nervousness, dizziness, panic, cancer…maybe not cancer.
No matter how you are breathing, your breath is filled with amazing feedback for you right now.
If you can learn how to improve your breathing and your awareness of your breath, you are one step closer to leading a more full life. Read on as I share my journey with you.
My Breathing Journey
It all started at birth. Believe it or not, I was born completely able to breathe. I know, I know, it doesn’t seem possible, but I assure you that from the moment I came into this world, I have been breathing.
I have continued to practice breathing for twenty two years, and plan on doing so every day of my life. I am completely dedicated to this practice – except when I am in a breath holding contest.
For many years, I thought I knew all there was to know about breathing. I was naive, even foolish. My path has led me to encounter many wiser than I. Come, share this journey and master the Way of the Breath.
The First Encounter
My first encounter with breathing wisdom came as a young competitive runner. I started cross country in junior high and quickly mastered the breathing technique, Sucking Wind. My wise coach quickly noticed my natural breathing talent and quickly knew he must take me under his wing. He rocked my world with the amazing Four Step Breath.
While I earned this technique with stinging sweat and unbidden tears, I will share it freely with you. The Four Step Breath is a method of moving and breathing in an efficient rhythm. While running, first take a controlled breath in the time it takes to take four steps (left-right-left-right). Next, fully exhale in the time it takes to run four steps. Repeat.
Incredible, isn’t it? This simple technique will allow you to run with greater speed and endurance. Use it wisely and continue on this journey with me.
The Magnificent Measured Breath
To master breath, you must master yourself. Many years after learning the Four Step Breath, a new teacher crossed my path. She was dressed quite absurdly in spandex and Lycra, but she exuded wisdom. We called her, Yogi.
At the break of dawn every morning, myself and forty other journeyman Breath Masters would assemble at our teachers call.
She led us through a series of grueling physical poses designed to stretch and bend our rigid bodies and minds. Tadasana. Urdhva Hastasana. Uttanasana.
She timed our movements to our breath. Each slow move must be accompanied by an equally, sometimes painfully, slow breath.
While stretching our bodies in a fixed pose, we would be required to breathe into our resistance, and feel the amazing power that breathing has over our body. Yogi aided me in my journey to master the Measured Breath technique.
As Yogi aided me, so shall I aide you. To use the Measured Breath technique, simply time the speed of your breath to a slow movement. Move from a neutral pose to a stretched pose while inhaling. When you reach the final pose, hold the pose, while breathing five to ten full breaths, in and out. Repeat this process as you move from stretch to stretch.
The Deep Belly Breath
Nearly immediately after learning the Measured Breath technique, I was confronted with the next step to become a Breathing Master. Not only must I be able to use my breath to support my body, but also to support my voice. I could no longer remain soft spoken in my pursuits. Luckily, a new mentor appeared in my life just as I needed her. Ah, Beth. I remember her teachings well.
To master the power of voice, it is necessary to be a Breathing Master. It is no longer acceptable to breathe partially. I was forced to expand my lungs to previously unreached capacity.
To do so, Beth instructed me in the ways of the Deep Belly Breath technique. She opened my lungs to the experience of a full, deep breath. Through months of practice in the application of the Deep Belly Breathing, I began to lift my voice to unimaginable volumes and clarity. I was able to reach the far corners of a theater with my voice without strain.
I will share this technique and how to master it, but I warn you – this is not as easy as the rest. I promise that becoming a Breathing Master will challenge you, if you have the will and courage to continue.
If you have the courage to stay the course, begin by laying with your back flat on the floor. Now breathe in, while focusing on expanding your stomach, drawing breath into the bottom of your lungs. You must do this laying down so you may know the correct feeling. Once you are able to draw a deep, full breath without expanding your chest, you are ready to stand. Attempt to duplicate the method while standing or sitting. Your posture must remain erect. You will know you have mastered this challenging technique when you are able to draw a full breath without your shoulders or upper chest rising at all.
If you have the courage, proceed on to the most secret of all methods…
Twenty years into my Breathing Mastery journey, I believed that I was nearing total mastery over my Breath. I was able to breathe while moving quickly, to use my breath to ease the stretching of my body, and to use my breath to propel my voice to the rooftops. What more could there have been to learn?
To celebrate my certain Mastery, I decided to indulge in a new educational journey. I found a love of music, particularly, singing. As with Breathing Mastery, I decided that the quickest way to success was to find a skilled teacher. Enter the vocal master – Frank.
From the first moment with my new pedagogue, I realized that my journey to Breathing Mastery was far from over.
You see, to sing is not only mastering the Way of the Breath, but using it in the act of creation. I knew before long that all the lessons I had learned had only lead me to this momentous engagement.
To proceed with the challenging task of singing as a Breathing Master, I had to learn to control my breathing apparatus in new ways. The Deep Belly Breath had prepared me to learn how to fully employ my diaphragm, the ultimate tool in a Breathing Master’s arsenal. Don’t know where your diaphragm is? Don’t worry, you didn’t lose it. It can be found at the base of your ribs, and is the muscle you use to expand and contract your lungs.
The Measured Breath had taught me control over my breathing. This skill was tested in extreme as I endeavored to produce many measures of song between breaths.
The Four Step Breath had taught me how to breathe quickly and in rhythm without losing control. As I learned to sing, I learned that it was necessary to draw breaths when the opportunity is presented. The wisdom in finding a pattern allowed me to sing naturally.
And while I had many techniques under my belt already, none had prepared me for the challenge of Diaphragmatic Dynamics. This is not one technique, but that foundation for many. To breathe with the use of your diaphragm is to exert total control over your lungs.
Even more challenging than the Deep Belly Breath, to begin Diaphragmatic Dynamics, you must be able to internally locate and control your muscular diaphragm. This step may take weeks to become comfortable with. Begin by following the Deep Belly Breath laying down exercise, now focusing on breathing in and out using the muscle at the bottom of you ribs. Once you can flex this muscle with ease, proceed to the standing exercise.
After you have mastered diaphragmatic breathing while standing, your path is yours to choose. You can practice the control of inhaling and exhaling by moving only your diaphragm. Isolating this muscle is extremely challenging and will take months, if not years to learn and integrate into your daily life.
Continuing the Journey of Breathing Mastery
I know now after many years of believing I was near completing the journey of becoming a Breathing Master, that there is no end or destination. To breathe is to live. With each breath I am aware of, I am aware of my internal state.
The greatest treasure of Breathing Mastery is the ability to experience awareness. How I breathe in any moment is how I live in that moment.
With a humble heart, I continue on my journey of Breathing Mastery. I invite you to join me – live with courage and awareness, and grow in your breath. Your life and lungs will be more full for it.
If you have already begun this journey, I ask that you share the lessons you have learned from your own mentors and teachers. Surely as our paths are not identical, you have learned a great deal that I have not yet encountered. I would learn from you, if you but take the time to share your wisdom as well.