By Nadia Diamante
Since we do it everyday, sometimes we take for granted our most powerful tool for healing and liberation. Without this tool the act of surviving itself would be impossible. There’s no magic pill, diet or exercise that can replicate the true life-sustaining power of this tool. This tool is the power of breath.
Feeling truly free gives us the sense that we can take a deep breath in and relax. Watch people who are stressed versus people who are relaxed. People who are stressed hold their breath. Sometimes, in the middle of a debate, they sound winded. That vocal fry that is much maligned in media is merely a dysregulation of breath.
There’s a reason why a whole generation of people sound fatigued and breathless. The world around us changes the patterns of our breathing. But that’s where this tool is the easiest. Not only is breathing in a controlled or specialized way super easy once you trust in yourself and relinquish control, but it’s free.
You don’t need to buy anything to breath. You just are.
Lack of aspiration leads to expiration, while controlled aspiration leads to inspiration. And there’s a reason why people who inspire you and who you strive to be are called your aspiration; they make you take a deep breath in and go, “Oh, that’s what my true self feels like.”
One of the most poignant places we can tune into ourselves is through our heart. Using the energy of the heart chakra, or the anahata, you can turn the breath into a healing and radiant force. You don’t need to do much; just focus your intention on what healing you want to permeate your body and what freedoms you are going to finally allow yourself.
I want to give you four really easy heart-centered breathing techniques you can do anytime, anywhere. I’ll start with the easiest and work up to a more advanced breath. Be gentle with yourself always and listen to your body if anything comes up. Always stop if you feel like you are hyperventilating, take some deep breaths in and breathe normally. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to activate and free yourself from old energy.
1) HANDS ON HEART BREATH
When an American says the “Pledge of Allegiance,” we are taught to put our hand over our heart is a promise of fidelity. This has been proven to be a very comforting feeling and biofeedback has proven that by putting your hands over your heart and just breathing long and deep, you can bring your heart rate down and therefore your anxiety and stress levels. It’s like making a promise to yourself that you will be okay no matter what.
HOW TO DO IT: Bring your left hand onto your heart. Cover that with your right. Bring your chin into your chest if that feels right(neck lock?), or sit up nice and tall. Close your eyes or focus them on something relaxing. A candle. A flower. A picture of someone you love. Breathe in deeply with intention. Breathe out deeply and slowly, exhaling with an equal amount of intention. Keep breathing this way. You may listen to relaxing music, but always keep your hands on your heart.
2) EMBRACE THE WORLD BREATH
This is a mixture of kundalini yoga with an ancient Sanskrit mantra. This exercise helps to crack open your heart center while embracing the energy of the Source around you. It is expansive versus protective like the exercise above. You can experiment with doing both, guarding and then generating. The mantra is Lokah Samastah Sukhkino Banavatu. The translation of the mantra is similar to Metta meditation (which you can use instead if you prefer English mantras): “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
HOW TO DO IT: Extend your arms out parallel to the ground and just let your wrists hang like a ragdoll. After a few minutes, your arms may get sore or tired. Work on challenging yourself while remaining open and relaxed. Inhale through the nose for four counts, suspend the inhaled breath for four counts, exhale through the mouth for four counts, suspend the exhaled breath for four counts. Continue. Listen to the mantra above, or just vibrate it internally. Your breath should exactly line up with each part of the mantra. If this exercise is too much for your arms, you can hold your hands in bear grip mudra.
3) DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
Cardiovascular doctors will sometimes prescribe this type of breathing to their heart patients and if they don’t, they should! A simpler term for this kind of breathing is “belly breathing.” When you breath in correctly into your diaphragm, your belly expands and when you breathe out it deflates. Practicing this breathing will make your diaphragm stronger and support your heart health.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie down in a comfortable position. Surround yourself with cozy things; pillows, a mat, a sheepskin, a sleepy dog or even your fast asleep baby. You can breathe silently or with ambient sound in the background. We like binaural beats, or the sound of whales. Put a pillow under your head and knees. Extra cozy. Put one hand on your ribcage and one on your heart. Breath through your nose slowly and feel your stomach expand. The hand on the heart should remain still. Slowly breathe through your mouth and as you do so tighten your deflating diaphragm muscles until you feel like your tummy is flat. This sort of breathing feels very strange at first, so you may want to start with a meditation to relax yourself or, if you’re doing it at night, some yoga nidra.
4) MEDITATION FOR A CALM HEART
An old favorite of the kundalini community, this is a great breathwork practice and meditation to use as your daily sadhana. It requires no chanting or music, so it can be done in your office or in your bedroom without awaking your loved ones or roommates. It is important to set a positive intention in your heart before you begin this or any heart-centered meditation.
HOW TO DO IT: Close the eyes, or look straight ahead with the eyes 1/10th open.
Inhale slowly and deeply through both nostrils. Then suspend the breath in and raise the chest. Retain it as long as possible. Then exhale smoothly, gradually, and completely. When the breath is totally out, lock the breath out for as long as possible. Concentrate on the flow of the breath. Regulate each bit of the breath consciously. To End: Inhale and exhale strongly 3 times. Relax. See the full description of the meditation at 3HO.