Written by Rowan Hamilton
You will have become aware at times of the way in which you breathe. Breathing is not a function that is detached from your emotional and mental states. Just the opposite; the way in which you breathe reflects the state you are in.
When you are asleep your breathing becomes deep slow and forceful. When under strain your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. When angry your breathing can be quite irregular. Yet when you are relaxed your breathing is slow, rhythmic and quiet. Just as your emotional state alters your breathing you can consciously change your emotional state.
By having knowledge of breathing exercises you can control a panic or distress, steady yourself, reduce tension, lower blood pressure and even cholesterol. Breathing techniques can be both “First Aid” and prevent stress and tension from injuring your body.
Regular breathing exercises, especially done early in the morning when the air is fresh, will clear the mind and invigorate the body. You may have dismissed the Japanese exercising before work or the Chinese performing their Tai Chi routines. But, when you have undertaken a few exercise disciplines yourself you will admire their dedication. In Japan the managers exercise with everyone else. All the staff are expected to function at their best. And their best is achieved without tension or stress.
These exercises are drawn from the Chinese knowledge of the role of breathing and gentle exercise we have adapted them for you in a way that will be less mysterious than if they were still described in the original oriental terms.
“First Aid” breathing exercises are those you can use when you find you are under stress. It might be that you are having a hectic day at work and you feel things getting to you; Or you might be stuck in a traffic jam with your pulse racing and the frustration making you angry. Learn to recognise the signs and anticipate situations that will make you tense, anxious or uptight.
This simplest breathing exercise is the important for “First Aid” it is an exercise to bring calm. Sit comfortably in a chair consciously let your shoulders drop and move outward to widen the chest. Let your head float upwards from your shoulders as if it was being lifted from above. Look straight ahead as if gazing at a place on a wall. Practice this initial letting go. Don’t force it, be comfortable. It may take time for your to get the knack, don’t feel defeated its just something new you needed to learn.
When you can do this easily your lungs will be free to fill from top to bottom so take a few deep, slow but gentle breaths. You are now ready to start the calming breathing. Breath in freely to the count of three and out again also to the count of three. Let the chest expand and deflate as you breath. Try not to exaggerate the movements.
This is a way of controlling your stress response, quietening the nervous system and get yourself back in balance. Once you have got the knack of this you can do it anywhere and when you need it. So simple and so effective.
Breathing Exercises To Help You Sleep
This is a help for those whose minds won’t switch off from the events of the day. Go to bed and make yourself ready for sleep. Close your eyes and make yourself comfortable. Breathe deeply and gently letting the stomach expand and contract, deepening the breathing. Try to visualise your breath as you exhale moving up from the diaphragm through the lungs and out of the mouth. In your minds eye watch the air follow an arc like a rainbow from your mouth back to your tummy and through our imaginary hole back to the diaphragm. Then start again with a slow rhythm, breathing and seeing the breath flow through the lungs and over its arc back to the diaphragm. Breath in from the diaphragm slowly through the chest to the mouth counting 1-2-3-4 then blow it back to the diaphragm with another 1-2-3-4 keep visualising the circle of air as it moves through you and round to the diaphragm keep your mind fully involved with this process and you will find sleep gently enfolds you.
Breathing Exercises to Reduce Tension
When you feel strain and tension in your neck and shoulders there is a simple exercise that can reduce the stiffness and pain, you can do it at home or at work just when you feel you need it. You may find that you need to do this exercise several times a day when you’re under pressure or feel tense. That’s ok, better to dispense the feeling than let it build up.
Stand up, stretch your arms above your head then let them fall loosely to your sides. Straighten your back hold in your stomach, tuck your bottom under let your head rise and your shoulders drop. This will encourage the blood flow. Take a slow in breath counting 1-2-3-4 Hold it in 1-2-3-4 then breath out 1-2-3-4 at the same time allow your shoulders to drop further, now make a circle with your head let it drop onto your chest, roll the head over the left shoulder, let drop behind you and roll over the right shoulder and back onto the chest. Roll the head three times to the left then three times to the right breathing easily all the time.
Finally lift the head, take a deep steady breath and you will feel less tired and tense.
Regular Breathing Exercises
To be done every morning, out of doors, in the fresh air.
Refreshing Breathing, To Clear Feelings Of Stagnation.
Stand feet shoulder width apart. Take a deep in breath through your nose. As you do so come up onto your toes, hand and fingers out stretched above your head, then in one quick puff let out all the breath through your mouth. At the same time come off your toes, bend at the waist so you end up bent forward almost touching the ground. The exercise is for dispelling that sluggish stagnant feeling. Do this exercise three times.
Do this more often when you have colds or sore throats. Stand feet shoulder width apart. Breathe in through your nose. At the same time clench your fists and bring them up to shoulder height, knuckles upward, elbows pointing to sides. Open fists and as you breathe out, slowly through your mouth, push your palms forward fingers upwards. Time it so the breath runs out as the arms reach full stretch, then breathe in through nose and at the same time, start to clench fists and bend elbows so that they are again near shoulders, elbows out. Repeat this exercise six times. Finally, on an in breath, let the hands come in and then as you breathe out, let the arms float down to your sides. This exercise is very good for sore throats.
Stand feet just over shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly. Breathe in through nose and at the same time bring hands to shoulder height, palms facing forward right hand by right shoulder and left hand by left shoulder. Breathe out through mouth slowly. At the same time push the palms and arms forward. Imagine you are pushing against a heavy weight. Breathe in through your nose and draw the hands back to the shoulders.
Now as you breathe out again through mouth, push the palms to the sides at shoulder height. Imagine you are parting two walls. Again as you breathe out, push the palms above your head then breathe in once more. Bring the palms back to shoulder height turn the palms to face down and then, as you breathe out push the palms down and then let them rest at your sides. Take three breaths and then repeat the Energising Breathing so that you do it three times altogether.
Exercises for our Internal Organs
We are used to the idea of exercises for our muscular body and even breathing exercises but the following are for our major organs. These help the functions of our organs aiding elimination, digestion and invigorating internal function.
This exercise helps to charge organs and aids the digestion. Standing with feet together, place your left hand on your stomach. Bring your right hand to shoulder height, elbow and arm to your right side, palm facing in front of you. Breathe in through your nose. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth. At the same time push your right palm out in front of you. Time the outward motion with your outward breath. Then breathe in through your nose and draw in your right hand back to its starting position. Do this exercise three times and then increasing over a period of three weeks to six times. When you have finished this move, place your right hand on your stomach and the left hand on top of your right hand. Do three in and out breaths.
Standing with heels together, breathe in through your nose and come up on your toes at the same time. Turn your head to the right as you breathe out slowly through your mouth. Lower your heels and turn your head to face forward. Repeat, but turn head to the left. Do this exercise three times to each side and increase after practice.
Stand feet just over shoulder width apart, knees bent. Place palms together, fingers facing opposite directions, pointing to sides with the left hand on top. Place the hands level with the abdomen approximately 9″ in front of you. Now reverse the position by rotating the hands but keeping them touching. Keep going through this motion twenty one times. Each time you change, turn just your head to look to the side first the right then the left. Press hard on the palms, as this creates heat which you can direct. When you have finished place your right hand on your right kidney and your left hand on your left kidney. Hold this position for at least a minute you will feel the warmth flow from your hands. Relax for a minute or so.
The S Breath
This is a special exercise for the lungs. It also aids cold relief and blocked energy. Lie on your back, arms by your side, legs lying loosely out straight. Take a long in breath through your nose. As you do so take your arms up and then down to rest on the floor above your head. Now make a very loud ESSS sound and continue the sound slowly until you run out of breath. At the same time let your hands lift up and in a semi circular motion come down to your sides. Repeat three times.
This exercise is very special and is of special benefit for complete relaxation and before meditation. Lie on your back. Close your eyes, put your hands by your sides and your legs in a relaxed position. Relax your breathing. Breathe deep into your stomach. Now very slowly lift your arms up and over to rest on the floor above your head. Take at least half a minute to move your arms to this position then slowly bring your arms back, taking again half a minute – three quarters of a minute to reach your side, then once again take your arms back over your head, this time taking at least a minute until your hands touch the floor and then spend another minute returning.
If you feel ready to do it once more, this time going as slowly as possible but still moving as smoothly as possible. When your arms reach your side put your right hand on top of a spot 1″ below your navel, your left hand on top of your right and think of your own favourite place. Maybe the wood, a field or a beach by the sea. Arise from this exercise very slowly.
The Golden Exercise
A test to learn to express and to feel your Chi. Stand at least 4′ from a wall. Stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly and stand totally relaxed. Raise your forearm and point your palm at the wall. Now visualise that you are sending out a stream of energy out of the palm of your hand and are firing it at the wall. Close your eyes and stay relaxed. You should find that you start to lose your balance. If you stop the flow from your hand you regain it. Try this test until you can detect your Chi and become sensitive to the flow and imbalance that is caused. This will improve over the weeks of doing Tai Chi.
The following exercise must be done at the end of practice.
The Seven Plum Blossoms – Closing Of The Energies
Breathe in through your nose. At the same time raise your arms from your sides to shoulder height with palms facing downwards. Breathe out and turn the palms over. Breathe in lift your arms above your head. Bend your waist and let your arms tuck between your legs. Hold your breath for a count of 3. When breathing out let your waist straighten so you again stand erect with your arms raised at shoulder height and out to your side with palms pointing up.
Breathe in and turn your palms over. Breathe out and let your arms float down by your sides. Draw in your left foot until you are standing erect. Take at least 3 in and out breaths before finishing.
It is advisable to remain standing for a few minutes after your practice – perhaps until you have made a cup of tea!