The Power of the Conscious Breath

Guru Amit Ray said “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” How many times have we stood in front of a group of people ready to speak our beautifully crafted, well-rehearsed words - when all of a sudden we are gripped by the hand of fear which slowly tightens around our throats? The words are dancing just out of our reach – taunting us, and the more we grapple for them the further away they bounce. The mouth becomes dry, a slow trickle of icy sweat snakes its way from under the hair-line, rolling down the forehead, picking up pace at the cheek bones and then leaps fearlessly from the jaw line. Looking out at the sea of faces of before us the world seems to move in slow-motion and time comes to a stand- still. Our brain has frozen, our face has frozen, our mouth is dry - and we forget to breathe. And strangely this is the last thing we think about doing. To breathe is to live and to live is to breathe – it is our lifeline but how often do we actually think of taking a breath as a rescue remedy? And I mean a real breath – a really deep breath! A breath that reaches deep into our belly.

I often wonder how many people really know HOW to breathe? We live in such a stressful society that sometimes we barely have time to breathe. I, for one! Our breath becomes shallow as we race from one thing to another, creating a constant state of emergency for our brain to attend to. A shallow breath, the breath that starts and finishes in the chest area, tells us that we are under attack, and our mind becomes agitated. So how should we breathe? And what do we actually do when we breathe? Perhaps we take the process for granted and never think about it. We would certainly die without it, but do we take enough time to truly understand the power of the conscious breath. The conscious breath can calm the beating heart. Let’s pause for a moment, and breathe deeply in through the nose and deep into the belly. Imagine breathing down into your toes, breathing into every part of your body. Enjoy the sensation. Breathe in slow and deep, fill the lungs and as you do so notice what this does to your heart rate. Do this several times and check in with how this makes you feel about yourself and the world around you. This wonderful gift of deep conscious breathing has come to my aid so times in my life – before going on stage, before managing a crisis, before running a workshop, before leaping off a rock face…..yes I have spent years rock climbing in far flung countries and have often found myself hanging off the side of a very steep rock face, frozen in fear, unable to move or think about how I am to make the next move without falling. My heart rate is off the scale. My brain is telling me that I’m going to die. I tighten my grip and I whimper quietly into the wall – don’t tell anyone! At the point when I realise that I can’t stay up there forever, and my belayer (the one holding the other end of the line – and my life – in their hands!) is waiting patiently at the bottom shouting word of encouragement (or were they cursing - I couldn’t quite make out), I make a decision. I stop whimpering, close my eyes and take long, deep, conscious breaths into the belly, until my heart rate has slowed down. My mind begins to settle. I focus on nothing but the breath, allowing myself to relax as the oxygen pumps evenly round the whole body. I breathe low and slow and find inner calm and confidence. My focus returns. My brain is re-energised. I am able to visualize the move. I consciously connect to the breath and feel the energy of the inner power that I have created. I am on top of things again. I make the move and take my climbing to another level. But enough about me! Let’s go back to that speech you were about to give – you need a voice right? But at the moment it is nowhere to be heard. Well where does that voice come from? Ok, so we have a voice box (your Adam’s apple) and vocal folds (those flappy things at the back of your throat), but they are nothing without the breath. The vocal folds need pressure to power the sound and it is the breath that gives it that power. And let’s face it you’ll never deliver your speech if you don’t breathe. But how often do we speak and give no thought to the breath? Say the words out loud “Hi there, how are you?” I’m sure that you delivered that very well. Now, consciously take a deep breath in through the nose, deep into the belly, allow the ribcage to expand, the diaphragm (that dome shaped muscle sitting under your ribcage) to lower, and then speak the line again. How different did that sound to you? (I’m assuming here that there was a difference). By deep belly breathing you give the opportunity for the voice to be completely supported by the diaphragm, as it rises again, and most importantly by the breath. It shouldn’t be pushed or forced. Once we practice conscious breathing the process becomes organic, the breathing muscles become stronger, and the voice becomes an incredibly powerful instrument supported by the upward pressure of the breath. If we took time to connect to our breath, think about how much more in command of our life we might be. In life we can race from one thing to another, never slowing down. We worry about things that have never happened. And dwell on those that have. We stop living in the moment. Take time out and breathe and become mindful of the world around you. Be wholly in the here and now. And appreciate every second. Concentrate on the breath and slow your life down. When nervous be still. When anxious be still. When ready to make an impact be still…and breathe. The diaphragm is key to your confidence. Your breath is key to living. The conscious breath can give us confidence through a strong and powerful voice. It can calm us in moments of stress, it can make us appreciate the world around us and bring us a sense of peace and enjoyment. Breathing is simple, but consciously breathing can connect us wholly and take us to another level. “Breath is the finest gift of nature. Be grateful for this wonderful gift.” Amit Ray

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