Breathing is the bridge between our external and internal environments. Through respiration, the air around us is drawn deep inside our lungs where it is processed and circulated before returning to the world outside.
In a continuous flow, one breath is released to make space for another. In this natural cycle, the exhalation is linked to relaxation and the sense of well-being. It’s understood in expressions such as, “breathing a sigh of relief” and “breathing easy.”
The breath gives us constant feedback that reflects every aspect of our being. Let’s continue our breathing exploration by observing the process of exhalation. With awareness, we can lengthen and cultivate its calming effect on our body, mind, and spirit. Follow the exhalation across the bridge, and enter a space of stillness deep inside. Here is a practice to help mindfully influence the breath.
Practice: Following the Breath and the Exhalation
Make yourself comfortable while sitting or lying down. Invite every part of yourself to relax as completely as possible. Give yourself a minute or two to observe this process. Notice any sensations of softening or letting go. Smile.
Begin to follow your breath. Observe how your breath moves through your body. Enjoy the movement. Gently bring your awareness to your belly. Watch it rise with the inhalation and fall with the exhalation. Can you feel the continuous wave-like movement of your breath deep inside?
Without changing anything, bring your attention to the exhalation and to the sensations of letting go. Softly breathing in and breathing out. Allow your awareness to glide down with the exhalation. Feel how your belly sinks back as the breath is released. Feel how your belly expands with each new breath.
As you feel ready, very gradually lengthen the exhalation. Stay within your sense of comfort. Effortlessly, the exhalation relaxes every cell in your body. Return to your regular breathing pattern whenever you feel the need. Each breath is smooth and even. Enjoy the exhalation.
At the bottom of the exhalation there is a space. Rest briefly in this space. Relax into the pause between breaths. Trust the inhalation. It will find its way to you. Receive the breath. Follow a long exhalation into the sacred space deep inside. You are safe and secure. Breathe in and out of this space, and allow it to expand. Be in this sanctuary. Be free to let go of anything. Release with the exhalation.
Take your time. As you feel ready, come back to normal breathing. Slowly open your eyes. Move and stretch.
Anywhere and Anytime: Mini Exhalation Breaks
As you become more familiar with extending the exhalation, try it with your eyes open. Mindful exhalation is a very practical tool. Its calming effect can relax the body, reduce anxiety, and soften hard feelings. You can practice it almost anywhere and anytime.
Mini exhalation breaks are a great way to release the tension of a busy day. Be creative and leave practice reminders on your computer screen or scatter them throughout the kitchen. Lengthen the exhalation before a business meeting, school conference, or medical procedure. Follow the exhalation during an argument or when someone starts to push your buttons. Practice mindful exhalation at bedtime to promote more restful sleep.
With time, a mindful breathing practice begins to expand our emotional and psychological space.
Yoga Bits: Daily Practices
* Notice when you are reacting to stress and watch yourself without judging. How do you act, think, and feel in your body?
* If you can catch yourself reacting to stress, take a single, conscious breath.
* Lengthen your exhalation for several breaths at specific times throughout the day.
* When you find yourself fixating on a specific stressor, actively release it for just one minute.
* Close your eyes and visualize being in your favorite place in the world. Take four conscious breaths there, and return.
* Take a moment to scan your body. If there is tension, breathe into it. If there is none, look for ways in which you can do less with your muscles while settling in to your current position.
©2012 by Matt Mumber & Heather Reed.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Published by New Page Books a division of Career Press,
Pompton Plains, NJ. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved.
This article was adapted from the chapter "Step 6: Stress Management" from the book:
Sustainable Wellness: An Integrative Approach to Transform Your Mind, Body, and Spirit
by Matt Mumber, MD and Heather Reed.
Sustainable Wellness combines modern scientific research with ancient methods that benefit the individual on all levels. The authors share tested techniques, personal stories of triumph, and daily exercises that will guide you on the path to sustainable wellness.
About the Authors
Dr. Matthew Mumber is an award-winning, board-certified radiation oncologist and co-director of the MD Ambassador Program and Integrative Oncology Program at Harbin Clinic in Rome, Georgia. He gives talks, leads workshops nationally, and writes extensively on integrative approaches to oncology, health, and wellness. Dr. Mumber is the founder of the nonprofit organization, Cancer Navigators Inc. He was named a Health Care Hero by Georgia Trend Magazine.
Heather Reed has been teaching yoga since 1996. She specializes in using yoga and meditation techniques for people living with cancer, post-polio syndrome, and other chronic illnesses. Heather currently facilitates Cancer Navigators residential retreats and support groups in person and online from Austin, Texas.