“Breath is the way in.” This mantra from Eoin Finn, founder of Blissology and one of my yoga teachers, sums up a practice that’s transformed my life, and very well could yours too: mindful breathing. Regularly pausing to breathe with intention is a gateway to all sorts of juicy awesomeness, infusing our minds with peace and hearts with joy.
One of the main ways I discern when something is important in my life and/or a life truth is when I get the same message from multiple sources. Years ago another yoga teacher of mine, Meghan Currie, said: “Breath is boss.” Reflecting on this, I think it’d be fair to say Meghan first opened my eyes to see the gift of mindful breathing, while Eoin and Blissology’s teachings opened my hands to better feel and receive the gift at a deeper level.
I think the Truth Meghan opened me up to and Eoin helped me receive at a cellular level is that there’s something mystical and magical about breath, and I’m not alone. In quite a few languages, especially ancient ones, there is one word for “breath,” “Spirit,” and “spirit/soul.” It seems that from early on humans realized there’s something enlivening, spiritual, connective, and even Divine about the breath. Regarding the creation of humanity, traditions commonly speak of our Creator breathing life into the first humans. Breath is a wonderful way in, to connection with self, others, and Something/Someone bigger than and beyond ourselves (who I name “God,” but you might have a different word/name).
I’ve taken to calling our breath a super power each and every one of us has. I say that because when we’re faced with stress, when our body-minds begin to go into fight or flight mode, we can reset our “status” to calm by purposefully slowing down and deepening our breath, which takes us into our parasympathetic nervous system (or “rest and digest system”).
A quick search on Google reveals studies show we have 10-60,000 thoughts a day, nearly all of which are the same dang thing over and over again. Even worse, the vast majority of our thoughts are negative. Sad as this is, I think it makes sense as the fabric our capitalistic culture is built upon is formed with threads of fear, lack, scarcity, and competition, wherein only a select “few” can win at life. The news, advertisements, papers, and son on bombard us with negativity, so we naturally think accordingly.
This is where the power of breath comes in.
Each of us has an authentic and true self, an identity minus our achievements, possessions, money, accolades, and such. This beautiful center of us knows we are worthy, belong, and are loved just as we are, no doing required. Last time I saw Meghan, at a workshop she was guiding, she asked the group of us: “Can you think and breathe intentionally at the same time?” We looked at each other, cocked our heads in thought, and threw out some speculations before she said, “I don’t know, but let’s try it out!”
I bring this up because there’s something about purposeful breathing that quiets our minds, lessens our negative and obsessive thinking, and puts us in tune with our peaceful and joyful true self.
Eoin, who I’m also working on my 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training with at Blissology, talks of being a “conduit of Love.” I wholeheartedly agree and find mindful breathing tunes and opens us up to more fully and freely give and receive Love. With that said, here are 7 mindful breathing practices that transform me on a daily basis in the most amazing ways that I’m stoked to share with you and hope you find helpful:
1. Breathing your daily intention
About three years ago I began starting my day by breathing an intention or affirmation. Before I even get out of bed, I take a few minutes to build the day on a positive foundation by taking sweet, deep breathes in tandem with a way of being to center my day on. While the sky is the limit here, I’ll share a few things I’ve used to help get you started.
In the beginning, I was still recovering from the trauma of divorce, so I reminded myself “you are” (on the inhale), “loved” (on the exhale). When the time was right, this shifted to “be” or “give” (on the inhale), “love” (on the exhale). Around New Years, as I reflected on my journey of growth, development and love, the following came to me: inhale “kindness” and exhale “care”. It’s crazy good how well this simple practice prepares you for the day and sets you up to do what you intend. Note, while I’m a creature of habit and don’t change this very often, it could easily be different everyday.
2. Meditative/Mantra breathing
Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Do you have those days where minutes (or seconds) after waking up, your mind is flooded by cares, worries, and to-dos? Me too! Recognizing this mental storm, whenever it comes, and breathing into it with intention has an incredible stilling affect. Pick a mantra that meets you, your situation, and/or your need and breathe it. Swamped by the things you have to do? You could breathe in “I am,” and breathe out “enough.” A general one I’ve found really calming is inhaling “Yah” and exhaling “Weh” (pronounced way). The Hebrew tradition says when Moses met God at/in a burning bush, he asked the Creator for a name. The sacred name God gave Moses is Yahweh. Rabbis say part of the beauty of this revelation is we say God’s name with every breath of our lives, because inhales naturally make the “Yah” sound, while exhales give the “Weh.”
3. Noises to clear tension/stress
Whenever our dog, Biscuits, gets stressed she barks and/or shakes her body. She is so wise! When you encounter physical, emotional, and/or mental stress, set some of it free with a sigh, lip flutter, soft scream, growl, or anything else that feels good in your body (side note: do not growl immediately after your spouse does something stressful, it doesn’t end well … not that I’d know this from personal experience). I teach my yoga students this all the time, and it really is quite magical. Humor and smiling pretty much makes everything better and easier, and a fun way to clear tension is to take a Lion’s Breath (or ten), by opening your mouth as wide as you can and sticking your tongue out as far as you can with a “haaaa” sound.
4. Breathing life into tight/stuck parts
Not only does the breath help clear worries and stress, it can help transform it too. While mindful exhales can release tension, purposeful inhales can infuse physical, emotional, and/or mental tightness with greater lightness and more love. Does a place in your body feel tight? Try spending a minute or more breathing deeply into it. Is there a thought in your brain or feeling in your heart that’s stuck? Take some time to breathe light, love, peace, and/or joy into whatever it is. I should note here that nothing I’m presenting here is an “instant” cure or a magical love potion type of deal. Instead, they are practices that help shift our bodies and minds and often take time, yet, I can’t help but add that sometimes small shifts make big differences.
5. Breath prayers
Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes it’s helpful to remember we’re all connected. Linking a short prayer with deep breaths can have a calming and transformative effect. What help do you need? What aid do friends/family desire? What good could the world use more of? Take three deep breaths while mentally speaking greater thriving and flourishing into the life/lives of whoever is on your mind. You could try doing this whenever it comes to mind, or you could set a silent alarm on your phone for once, twice, three times, or whatever a day and pause for 15-ish seconds to do this. A favorite practice of mine has been to stop around 9 a.m., 12 p.m., and 3 p.m. to inhale deeply “Lord Jesus Christ,” exhale deeply “have mercy”, while holding in my mind anyone on my heart.
6. Deep breaths into back, belly and hips
The vast majority of our breath is both unconscious and shallow. I note this because slow, deep breathing calms our body and mind, while quick, shallow breathing speeds things up, sending our minds and body into a fight/flight type state. My point here is I think the rapid and thin quality of many of our natural breathing patterns literally shifts us toward being more worried, anxious, stressed, and fearful than we need to be. Still, whether my theory is right or wrong, taking slow deep breaths into your low back, belly, and hips will both feel really good and calm your body and mind, which will make you more focused and effective across the board.
7. “Mm mm mmm” sounds
I was first introduced to this at my first yoga teacher training, and while at first I was skeptical, now I love it so hard and teach it in yoga classes so frequently it’s ridiculous. You know the noise we make when food tastes delicious? The “mm mm mmm” noise? Try making it to celebrate other delicious things in life, like a hug, a pleasant thought, something/someone you’re grateful for, seeing something beautiful, a yoga practice, a good conversation, a great blog—the possibilities are endless. Try making a lengthy “mm mm mmm mmm mmm” now. Notice how it feels in the body. Witness the effects on your mind.
Bonus: Seeing, feeling and receiving each breath as a gift
This mentality and way of seeing life, the universe, and everything has rocked my world: Life is an amazing gift.Above I mentioned the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and many others used the same word for breath, spirit, and Spirit, and part of this wisdom is we need each breath to continue living; this breath is a gift, as is the next. The gift of each breath is a reflection and reminder of a greater reality: Life is a precious, amazing, and beautiful gift from a good and loving Source.
The more I trust this, live with a gift-centered awareness, and practice the seven things above, the more peace and joy abound. I pray they aid you on your journey and we’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences!
By Lang Charters Blissology 200-hr YTT 2017
He’s here to awaken, open to, and be love together!
Check out Lang’s teacher profile to learn more.