Breathing is the one thing we all do the moment we emerge into the world and it’ll be the last thing we all do right before we leave. Breathing as we all know is a constant necessity for continued physical existence. We must all breathe a number of times a minute and when you take a moment to consider the beauty of breathing a number of important facts become readily apparent and can act as a grounding force to bring you back from being caught up in day-to-day trivialities.
For instance, when I contemplate breathing the very first thing that strikes me is how very interdependent the whole process is. The breath is actually the main method of waste disposal used by our bodies. We expel what to our bodies are toxins and take in what we need to live. The toxins we expel are used by other organic life forms such as plants and they in turn expel the oxygen we need to live. The deeply interconnected and lovingly symbiotic relationship is there for each of us to see and fully experience each and every moment.
Anytime you’re feeling disconnected from things, you may like to contemplate the simple act of breathing and use it to literally ground yourself. Much of the time we breathe without conscious effort or direction. Breathing is the only system in the human body that is able to be controlled consciously or unconsciously. This is a very important fact.
“Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Our bodies have a number of feedback loops that we can take advantage of. Smiling is the source of one very effective feedback loop. We smile when we feel good. Often we see someone else smiling, feel good and so smile in return. The important point is that this loop works backwards as well as forwards. Often we may have little control over how we are feeling due to the overwhelming nature of external events and circumstances.
However, we all have more then enough control over our physicality. If I was to ask you to make a fist or pull a funny face most people have no problem completing such tasks 100% of the time. So when you’re not feeling so good try this experiment – put a huge smile on your face and hold it there for sixty seconds. At first it may feel completely fake and perhaps much more like a grimace than a smile. But well before the sixty seconds are up something interesting will begin to occur. You’ll start to feel better. By taking on the physicality of happiness the feedback loop works in reverse and you’ll start to actually feel happy. As that feeling grows the smile becomes more natural and the feedback loop continues.
Breathing can be used in exactly the same way. Much of the time, the way we breathe reflects how we are feeling. If you’re stressed, angry or nervous your breath may become short, shallow or fast. If you want to change how you’re feeling change your breathing by taking conscious control of it. Breathe deep down into the belly. Breathe through your nose and make each inhalation and exhalation a slow steady process. Within moments you’ll begin to calm, feel more relaxed and confident. It is little wonder that the breath is the focus of so many types of meditation.
Final Thoughts on Breathing
The process of breathing is at the very core of our experience of being alive. It changes moment to moment but yet in a way is constant. There is difference in the sameness and sameness in the difference. An amazingly wondrous experience is available to us each and every moment. Simply stop for just a moment each day and experience the joy of breathing. Experience the sensation of your very existence.
What do you think? Please share any thoughts or suggestions related to breathing you have in the comments below.
Photo by Minoru Nitta
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13 thoughts on “The Beauty of Breathing”
I love the way you have presented the importance of breathing as a part of our being and as a means to change our experience.
Since I started yoga and developing healthy breathing during the Practice, I have noticed the power of “correct” breathing in the rest of my life. It is energising and calming.
It is one part of my yoga Practice that I am starting to carry with me on a daily basis.
Hi Stephen, great article. Breathing could help cooling down our feeling indeed, for example when I was angry, I took several deep breaths then my anger was cooled down little by little.
Thanks for sharing, Stephen.
Thanks for using my image! i feel honored! :)
My pleasure! Thank you for taking just beautiful photos. I also used one of your photos a week ago in the article How to Get Yourself Out of a Bad Mood.
Breathing and smiling both fall under the category of things we should do more consciously — rather than unconsciously. — especially with regard of timing and frequency…
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Such beautiful thoughts. You are right; breath can be an exquisite way to merge our outer mind with our total self. If you pay attention to your breath, you will feel the delicacy of it, and how related it is to your consciousness. And as you cultivate the smoothness and depth of your breath, you cultivate corresponding qualities in your mind and spirit.
Yes, smiling is a powerful thing. When we smile, we stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system through nerve receptors at the outer edges of our eyes. So by physically smiling, especially with our eyes, we actually create the conditions within us that give us reason to smile. How cool is that?
A deep breath is one of my favorite simple pleasures.
Great read! Stumbled. ;-)
Yoga teaches that breathing is a great way to bring prana or chi into the body and I can vouch for that as I’ve been doing pranayama exercises every morning for years. They should really teach correct breathing in school as it’s a real key to good health and so many people don’t do it correctly. We can survive for days without water, weeks or maybe months without food, but only minutes without air…
Thanks for this post. I suspect that if we all took just a minute each day to focus on our breathing, and notice the places where it’s tight or constricted, we’d do so much to reduce our level of stress.
Thanks for the great post. Breathing is such a simple and amazing thing, we often pay little attention to what an enjoyable a process it can be.
I had a wonderful acting teacher in NY named Carol Fox Prescott. Her technique focuses, on among other things, breath awareness. The idea is to develop the ability to stay conscious of your inhalations and exhalations without interfering with them. I found that when I wasn’t manipulating it, which it seems most of us do without even realizing it, my breathing would change constantly. This had the effect of enlivening my energy and deepening my connection. It also seemed to allow me to channel inspiration in a way that became a great spiritual teaching. It changed my life.
“Breathing is the only system in the human body that is able to be controlled consciously or unconsciously. This is a very important fact.”
What about the act of blinking? Are we not also able to blink both consciously (as you are probably doing now) or unconsciously (as you were probably doing before reading this sentance).
@matthew. There are many things that can be done by both, but breathing is the only major system that is required for life that can be done both ways.
Peter, this is a fantastic article. I’ve always loved such topics and have studied many of the little things we often take for granted to determine how to improve be knowing them better. We all spend our entire lives doing this one, yet few people ever question or investigate how to make the most of it (from the release of toxins points of view) yet many people (I for one agree) would argue you can literally eliminate getting sick just by breathing differently. Great intro to a great topic, I hope it inspires your readers to investigate further!