Most of the time, we can get along just fine in the world without thinking about our breath. However, whenever we need to alter our state of mind – whether we need to instill calm or an increased level of energy – our breath is our very best tool. By manipulating the breath, we can literally change our minds. To understand the power of the breath, we must understand what it means to take a full complete breath.
A Belly Breath Is A Calm Breath
A full complete breath involves the entire trunk of the body. As we inhale:
- the diaphragm contracts and moves downward
- the lumbar spine arches slightly
- the external intercostals contract causing the ribs to expand
- the pectoral muscles contract, lifting the mid ribs
- the scalene muscles contract lifting the top two ribs
The exhale reverses all of these actions in mirror order:
- the diaphragm relaxes, moving in and up
- the lumbar spines flattens a bit
- the internal intercostals relax, allowing the ribs to move back toward the midline
- the pectoral muscles relax, lowering the mid ribs
- the scalene muscles relax, settling the top two ribs
Begin In The Chest For Added Energy
A full complete breath can also begin in the chest. In this case, the actions of inhalation and exhalation go in reverse order beginning in the chest and ending in the belly. This is a more energizing breath, whereas the breath that begins in the belly causes a calming sensation.
The action of the inhalation has 3 parts that involve the front, back, and sides of the body – the expansion of the belly, ribs, and chest / heart outward away from the center of the body. The exhalation is simply the reverse – the belly, ribs and chest / heart all move back toward the center of the body. Breathing is a 360-degree experience. As you breathe, notice the subtle movements of the spine. It grows to its tallest on the inhale and relaxes on the exhale.
A Daily Practice
By taking just a few full complete breaths every day, we will begin to understand our ability to use the breath to balance our minds. Regardless of our circumstances, the breath teaches us that we always have everything we need to find balance.