The breath is incredible in helping us let go, gain distance from what’s gripping us, and perhaps from there, some clarity. I don’t mentioning that I was down with COVID recently, and the breath helped me a long way everyday in overcoming the emotional and physical struggles I had during quarantine.
The breath can be used for so many things; the breath helps to soften us to let go, and the breath helps to thin the grippings we have to perhaps reach our toes.
I have listed four ways you can use the breath to help you let go.
Our breath helps to centre us, in fact. Our breath helps us to draw ourselves back to our core.
Below, I have outlined how the breath helps us, with three different types of breath practices we can use to help us let go.
Distance from grippings.
Through yoga philosophy, we learn that in any one experience, there are many points of focus. The main experience for us is ‘vrtti’, or otherwise, the known experience. The causative force of the vrtti is called ‘pratyaya’. And the experience of the experience is ‘chitta’.
So, for example, if you are in heavy traffic, and are late for an appointment, you may be experiencing the stress of having to get to your destination; the unhappiness of the drivers trying to cut into your lane; the music or conversation from your car stereo; the sensation of the air-conditioning on your skin; and a whole slew of other experiences you could choose to focus on.
You could choose to focus on the stress of running late, but that would hardly serve you. You could choose on focusing on the traffic, but that may not serve you either. Or, you could focus on your breath. If you draw all your focus to your breath, you may find that gripping – the stress – reduced. You may find your heart rate lowering, and your blood pressure dropping. You may find a sense of renewal – all sensations dissolving – leaving you with just the breath.
So having just your focus on the breath and nothing else does help to you to let go, at least for the short term. And the more you practise, the more you may find any kind of gripping leaving you, perhaps for good.
Read the piece below for my own experience of driving pain away just by using the breath!
Read how the breath drove away my pain by hitting the button!
Count your breath.
One of the easiest ways to immerse in the breath is to begin counting your breath.
The late yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar states: “The breathing cycle constitutes of three parts: inhalation, exhalation and retention.” The retention in question is the pause at the end of each inhalation and of each exhalation.
This may be something ‘new’ to us, because that moment of breath retention sometimes is so brief, so tiny and microscopic, we aren’t even aware it’s there. So for each breath cycle, do a count. Then for the next cycle, the next count, and so on until you reach ten or twelve. Then start at one again.
Then, when you get into a good counting rhythm, see if you can discern that pause or breath retention during your breath cycle. Just do a little investigation, don’t get frustrated if you aren’t able to discern, and it’s not ‘wrong’ or ‘incorrect’ or ‘imperfect’ if you cannot find it.
Just consider the counting, the inhale, the exhale – and if you can – the retention of breath.
Take your time with the practice. Should any questions arise, bring your awareness back to the counting, and leave the questions for later.
When the breath wanders the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still.Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Sensation of breath.
Another method to immerse in the breath to help you let go of unskilful thought patterns or grippings is to have awareness on the sensation of the breath.
So look at how your body experiences the breath, and have awareness to that. Some focus points would be:
- Sensation of breath through the nostrils
- Sensation of breath down through the pharynx (back of the throat), through larynx larynx (voice box) and into the trachea (windpipe), and down into your lungs, and back out again
- Sensation of breath in the lungs itself
Just experiment with your focus on the breath sensation – maybe breath in the right lung, or the left lung, or right nostril or left nostril etc.
Take your time, and if questions pop up, bring your awareness back to breath sensation, and leave the answers to the questions for later.
If the breath scatters, the mind wanders. If mind wanders, the breath scatters. So still the breath to still the mind.B.K.S. Iyengar ‘Light on Yoga’
We let go through our exhales. Our bodies lets go of toxins through the out-breath. And our body softens with exhalations,
So a letting-go practice can encompass longer exhales.
- So begin – as ever – either seated or reclining comfortably with a neutral or straight spine.
- Then either set your timer for 3-5 seconds inhale and 3-5 seconds exhale: be sure that you set the timer for equal lengths (i.e. 1:1 ratio); OR
- You may count a 3-5 for your inhales, and 3-5 for your exhales; again, an equal count (i.e. 1:1 ratio) for both inhalation and exhalation
- After a while (anything from 5 minutes onwards), add two counts or more to each exhalation, while maintaining the same length for your inhalation.
- If you are comfortable, you can add more counts to your exhales after some time, even up to a 1:2 ratio (e.g. 4 counts / seconds inhale and 8 counts / seconds exhale).
As time goes by, you may add more, so long as you’re comfortable (and an apparently healthy adult – and also so long as your medical practitioner does not preclude).
So now you know three methods to use your breath to let go, and also why a breath-focused meditation helps you to let go.
If you have any questions, do let me know.
The Mindful Mornings
If your days are fraught with stress and anxiety, this mini-course is for you!
It offers methods on how to incorporate mindfulness into your mornings and includes:
- An introductory video
- A guided meditation video
- A yoga movement practice video
- A video on examples of mindfulness routines you can incorporate into your mornings, AND
- Mindful Mornings Modalities – four videos
- Yoga Wall Stretches for the low back – four videos
- A mindful morning pdf checklist