Without breath, there is no life. Without aware breath, our awareness is limited.
Oddly enough, breathing is so fundamental and so wired into us that few of us are ever actually taught how to breathe. We are told to take deep breaths when we are upset or angry. Children hold their breath to get what they want from their parents. And of course, athletes learn to time their breath with their exertions.
Working with the breath, known as pranayama in yoga, is important in many traditions. These traditions have discovered that the breath is so integral to awareness that you can change your state of awareness through focusing on and changing your breath.
From a Tantric point of view, the body already knows a lot about pranayama; we are already wired to change our breath as different frequencies of energy flow through us. Think of the sudden intake of breath when we are struck with wonder, or the almost cessation of breath when we are in a meditative trance. The heartfelt sigh releases tension in our heart and breath centers.
How is it we do this?
Most people think of breathing as an expansion and contraction of the lungs. That is not quite the whole picture. The lungs mostly exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide between the blood vessels in the lungs and the air in the chest cavity. Breathing is the expansion and contraction of the space inside the chest. While expanding the space can be done by moving the rib cage inwards and outwards, it is much more effective to change the size of the space using the diaphragm.
In the diagrams below, look at the how the diaphragm moves down to expand the chest space on the in-breath, and returns to a neutral position on the out-breath.
Now we can explore different ways to expand the chest space. The first diagram below shows a rib cage breath. The center diagram shows a belly breath, in which expanding the belly draws down the diaphragm. The third shows a pelvic breath, where all the muscles attached to the pelvis help pull down the diaphragm.
Try all three, experimenting with different muscles and positions. Focus on the in-breath and let the out-breath take care of itself. Deep breaths are not necessary. In fact, a gentler breath gives you more options and better control!
The type of breath you use changes for different activities. The chest breath will work fine for exploring breathing down.
Natural orientation for humans seems to be up. Higher is better; the head is more sacred than the feet, and much prettier, too!
But the feet and the bottom of the spine are our connection to the ground, to gravity, which is merely one of the biggest forces in our lives.
Breathing “down” connects us to the ground, and opens up our base chakra. Itís very simple.
- Seat yourself in a comfortable cross-legged position (or really, any position will do!).
- Take an easy, good breath.
- Focus the out-breath down through your body into the ground.
The air doesn’t travel down, but it may well feel as though it does. Explore a couple breaths. You will know when you have breathed down. Your sit bones will drop closer to the floor, your spine will begin to straighten of its own accord, your head will move up and back so that it is more directly over the spine.
If you let the top of your head relax a bit, at the end of the down-breath you may even feel a little energy rise through the neck and out the top of the head.
Play with your breathing. You don’t have to breathe down with every breath; on some breaths instead let your spine sway a little on the out-breath. Just remember at some point to breathe in, breathe down, pause, and THEN let yourself move again.
Such a simple thing, a simple thing that has no end to it! As you breathe down, you will notice that the rib cage relaxes, the heart settles to a gentler pace, the shoulders drop, the hips widen.
Try it sitting, standing, waiting for a bus or a train.
Hug someone and breathe down at the same time. Youíll be amazed at the difference! Better yet, get them to breathe down with you during the hug. Just tell them “Breathe in, and breathe down through your feet into the ground.” It will feel completely different from any hug you have ever encountered.
Breath is energy, and there is energy in the patterns of our breathing. There HAS to be, because we use the energy of our bodies to do itWhen you change the patterns of your breathing, you are changing the pattern of the energy that powers that breathing, the pattern that vibrates like a shell around you as your chest rises and falls.
Relax the shell, let the energy patterns relax and gentle themselves, and you will be in a different energy state. If you are hugging someone at the same time, the change in state is even more pronounced.
Welcome to Tantric physics!