Conscious Breathing: A Prerequisite for Breath work Practice
Conscious breathing is a simple and effective breath work practice that supports a relaxed mind and a peaceful life. Many people breathe in ways that create stress in their bodies, or simply allow their breathing to operate as an unconscious reaction to the circumstances they experience. The breath is intimately connected with our emotions and states of mind.
Incorrect and irregular breathing patterns often reflect themselves as various disturbances in the body and mind. Many are familiar with the disruption in the breathing pattern that is associated with pain or powerful emotions. A startled gasp, the deep trembling breaths of anger, a sob of grief, or a sigh of relief are common examples of how emotions affect breathing.
This process also occurs in the opposite way. Correct breathing significantly improves one’s physical and mental well-being. Therefore, the first prerequisite of any breathwork practice is the practice of conscious breathing—bringing awareness to the breathing process. It is only through conscious breathing that it becomes possible to correct irregular breathing habits. In order to develop conscious breathing, one must free the mind from emotional tension—one must let go of the underlying tension that keeps them living and breathing in a reactive and stressful way.
Voluntary and Involuntary Breathing
The breath is perhaps the only physiological process that can either be voluntary or involuntary. One can breathe consciously and control the breathing process or one can breathe automatically and unconsciously. If the breath is unconscious, it becomes ruled by primitive parts of the brain. However, when one begins breathing consciously, the frontal brain registers the breath, allowing control of the different hemispheres of the brain.
The breath should become a part of one’s constant awareness. The first step towards achieving this is simply to become aware of the breathing process. Without awareness, nothing can be achieved in regard to changing the pattern of breath. The following technique can be used to develop an increased awareness of the breath:
Counting the Breath
- Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or lay down on your back.
- Close your eyes, and allow yourself to rest for a few moments, letting your mind and body be still.
- Start by observing the natural flow of breath, watching the air flow in with an inhalation, and out with an exhalation.
- Do not try to change the breathing pattern in any way, just observe this natural process of breathing that has been occurring throughout your life, and which has often been taken for granted.
- Now count your breath in reverse from 22 to 0.
- As you breathe in, silently state to yourself, “I am aware that I am breathing in.” As you breathe out state “I am aware that I am breathing out. 22” “I am aware that I am breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing out. 21,” and so on, counting down from 22 to 0.
- If you lose count at any point, return to 22 and begin again. The common habit for most people is to spend a significant amount of time consumed by the mind and its projections. It is likely that while performing any practice that requires you to be fully present and attentive, you will be distracted by thoughts, ideas, fantasies, images, and so on. If this occurs, just notice that you were distracted, and return your attention to counting the breath. When you are aware of the breath your body is able to relax, but when you lose your awareness there is tension. So, practice counting without losing your awareness.
- Once you have finished counting, allow yourself a few moments to simply rest in stillness, and gradually open your eyes.
- As you go about your daily activities, practice keeping some of your attention inwardly focused on your breath.
Conscious Breathing Benefits
As we become more aware of our breath, we will notice that the pattern of our breathing has a direct relationship with our state of mind. We can learn how to maintain more peace of mind by learning how to control our breathing and by breathing in a more relaxed and conscious way. The first step in this process is simply to become aware of the breath—to shift from the breath being an involuntary action to a voluntary action.