March 27, 2015

Experiencing the Power of Breath.


The mind loves to struggle and this is why I teach breathwork so much.

Breath is one of the most powerful tools we have because it takes the power and control out of the struggling mind. 

A man I work with recently shared a beautiful story. He said:

“I gotta tell you Mary, it just absolutely astounded me. I was in so much fear and I wanted to go to the tavern. But, I sat down in my living room, turned off all the lights, lit a bunch of candles and went within by simply using my breath. And I am just amazed because I have never done that before. It changed my life. Spacious and peaceful, everything felt brand new and alive afterwards. ”

I told him that most people go to their deathbeds without ever doing this. Then he said, “What do I need to do to get back there?” I responded, “Oh, there is the mind again.”

Each cell in our bodies is like a factory. Each little factory needs two different types of workers in order to function well. The first is glucose, which comes from the liver when it breaks down our food. The second is oxygen. A cell needs 32 molecules of oxygen for every one molecule of glucose to function efficiently!

It is like a fire in a fireplace. When you breathe shallow breaths, it is like closing the damper down on a fire. You limit the amount of oxygen, the fire smokes, and then it goes out. When we take shallow breaths, our cells cannot function efficiently. Also, when we hold our breath, there are a lot more toxins in our bodies.

Most people breathe such shallow breaths that they don’t even inhale a tea cup full of oxygen with every breath. A true breath is a liter of oxygen. So can you imagine how many more toxins you release when you breathe deeply and how happy your cells when you are opening the damper? 

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you try to take deep breaths all the time. That will only add more effort to your system. As a matter of fact, when I first learned about breathwork, my resistant part thought that deep, conscious breathing took way too much time and effort. But, once I realized that the true power is in the out-breath, I was able to bypass the resistance.

Now when I allow a long, deep out-breath (which also makes space for a deeper in-breath), I often say “Ahhhh” as I exhale. So delicious! And this sound just happens to be the vibration of the heart chakra and also the great sound of letting go. 

I often use the mantra, Clear Mind, Don’t Know with my breath. On the in-breath, I say “Clear Mind” three times, and then in one long deep out-breath, I say Don’t Know.” On my outbreath, I pretend I am blowing out a candle and this helps me to lengthen my breath. It is so nourishing.

Why does saying, “Don’t Know” bring “Clear Mind?” Because when I say it, I am no longer caught like a rat in a cage trying to figure it all out. Stephen Levine, author and spiritual teacher, says that trying to figure it all out is the ultimate seduction. When we try to figure it all out, we are not connected to life. Life is in charge of life and it will figure it out so we don’t have to. This mantra lets me know that I am being held and breathed by Life. 

Another wonderful practice is to alternate nostril breathing. When you draw air into the left nostril (by closing the right), it directly affects the right brain and when you draw air up into the right nostril, it does the same to the left side of your brain. I like to say that alternate nostril breathing is “absolutely brilliant for the brain.”

When my kids were young, I began doing alternate nostril breathing and would practice it in places like the doctor’s office or at the movies. My kids would be so embarrassed and would say, “Stop it, Mom!” We were laughing about it recently. I told them that they are alive today because of alternate nostril breathing! I truly believe I would have gone off the deep end if I did not have this ability to cool and calm my brain at that time in my life. So, I invite you to play with alternate nostril breathing. Give your brain the gift of lots of yummy in-breaths and out-breaths. It is beyond powerful. 

The next time you are caught in struggle, watch how much you hold your breath. Just notice, but don’t go to war with it. And when you notice it, reset by allowing some deep, slow out-breaths, and if it calls to you, say “Ahhhh.” Then, ask yourself, “What is different about my experience now that I have experienced the power of my own breath?” 



32 Ways to Pay Attention to Your Breath {Pranayama Preliminaries}


Author: Mary O’Malley

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Darla Heuske


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