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November 8, 2020

How Many Breaths Do You Get? A Doctor Urges you to Breathe with Intention.

I am an odd combination of medical doctor, yoga teacher, and stand-up comedian (no joke!)

I try to combine and translate what I know about anatomy and physiology from a medical perspective, and also relieving anxiety and stress from a yogic perspective.

When you tell yourself, or someone like me tells you to “take a deep breath”:

Do you actually feel your breath?

Do you pay attention to the sensation of your breath going in…and out?

Where do you feel your breath? Have you ever thought about this?

Is it your nostrils, your mouth, the center of your chest, your back, the sides of your chest, or the bottom of your chest? Pay attention to where you feel the breath as much as you notice it going in and out.

Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, and sense your breath through your hands as your chest and belly move back and forth.

Try to experience your breath in an area where you wouldn’t normally pay attention. For example, if you tend to feel it in your nostrils, try to feel it at the sides of your chest or your back.

When you pay attention to your breath like this, it naturally slows and deepens. This is you paying attention to what’s inside of you in the now, instead of what’s outside of you in the thoughts and feelings of the past and future.

Paying exquisite attention to your breath (even if it is for less than a minute) will automatically calm your entire system. You are changing your attention and intention from mind-based focus on the future (where there is no grounding) to a focus on sensation and grounding that your system can use to turn inward and reset. We can only feel the moment we are in, but we can think far into the distant and often painful past, and the relentlessly projected future.

Your body never lies to you, but your thoughts lie all the time. So why do we preferentially rely on the words in our heads over the feeling in our bodies?

When you make the intention to move out of the uncertainty of the future in your mind and into the certainty of the sensation in your body and breath in the present moment, you take control. You are the conscious master and no longer the unconscious servant. You become the master by paying specific attention to the intention to deeply connect to all the sensations of your breath—not just taking a couple of deep breaths and leaving it at that.

When you take deep breaths, make the best of them. If you just breathe in and out a couple of times it will help, but if you are going to be there anyway, why not make the very best of the experience? Don’t leave a lot of meat on that bone if you don’t have to. (My apologies to the vegetarians in the audience.)

The ancient yogis said that it wasn’t heartbeats, but breaths that we have a finite number of. Once we reach that number, we die. If we are tense and worried and we use short, shallow breathing, we use up our breaths much too early.

If we pay attention to our breathing and become much more intentional about our breath, I believe we will live longer and healthier lives in the long-term and stress less about the election in the short term.

I hope when you or someone else suggests you take a “deep breath” that it will never be the same again.

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