Create gentle flowing breath
Sometimes I can’t exhale when doing a breathing exercise. I take a nice smoothe inhale, but somewhere in my exhale there is a little bump. It feels like there is a knot in my stomach and my exhaling breath has to sort of hop over the knot before continuing out of my body. This knot is anxiety. Because of anxiety I tend to hold my body in a certain way, as if protecting myself. I do things to deal with my anxiety, but I also need to do something for my body to let out the tension that anxiety creates in my muscles. This self-care is essential in cultivating patience and loving-kindness which helps to lessen my overall anxiety.
May I care for myself joyfully.
May all beings are for themselves joyfully.
Of all the things I have tried to lessen this tension in my breathing, I have found that relaxing my belly is one of the most helpful. That doesn’t mean just letting my belly hang out. It goes much deeper than that. Relaxing my belly means relaxing the muscles in my core; that is, both my back and my front. You will have heard that good posture promotes better breathing; that is true. But adopting the appearance of good posture by puffing up your chest is only adding more tension on top of already stressed structure and won’t do much for your breathing. What will help more is relaxing the muscles that support your upper body and building good posture from the legs up.
Your body knows how to breathe well
The things we do in our daily lives tend to get in the way of easeful breathing. I notice, for example, that I tend to hold my belly in when sitting infront of my computer for a long time. (That’s anxiety!) Sometimes I get low back stiffness and that effects my walking, which in turn effects my breathing. For instance, when I go for a long walk (as I enjoy doing), and notice that my back is a little stiff, I slow down my pace and look for a softer movement so that I avoid creating more tension which can restrict my breathing in small but significant ways.
These things are subtle. It has taken me many years of observation and experimentation to make these connections. Today I’d like to share with you a self-guided practice that can help you to relax your whole body and breathe more evenly. It is called “mountain brook” because your body is arranged over blankets like the riverbed, and your breath flows like water running over smooth pebbles as it makes its way down the moountain.
Mountain brook: flowing breath
A gentle, restful practice to soothe your breathing
Mountain brook position creates length along the front and back of your body. Imagine yourself like a mountain stream, flowing smoothly over the stones and enjoying the cool air. Your chest and throat are extended, allowing for deeper breathing. The position of your spine counteracts the effects of sitting in a chair, leaving you feeling more balanced and standing tall.
Roll up one of your blankets to make a thin roll. Lie down on the floor with this roll just below your shoulder blades, as shown in the picture below. Your shoulders are resting on the floor.
Take a few moments to find a comfortable position. Your chest is lifted, and your shoulders are just touching the floor, as shown in the picture below. Move the roll up or down a little to find your sweet spot.
NOTE If you need to move the roll quite far down before it feels comfortable, try replacing the blanket with a small towel. You might feel a pleasant intensity but you should not feel any pain.
Now sit up and place a rolled blanket under your knees and a folded blanket under your head. Lie back down.
Make a roll in the blanket under your head so that the back of your neck is lightly supported. See the image below.
Stay for 5-15 minutes. Breathe normally and allow your body to be fully supported. Roll onto your side to sit up.
MAKE IT YOUR OWN
You may enjoy changing the size of the rolled blankets under your knees and spine. Just make sure that you are always comfortable and that your neck is lightly supported.