We’ve all heard someone tell us to Take a deep breath before a nerve-wracking event or during a stressful situation.
If you practice yoga, you hear the instructor repeating often in class, Remember to breathe. Sometimes we hear the yogi next to us practicing a beautiful, audible Ujjayi breath, which reminds us to tune back into our breathing.
I had an interesting opportunity to witness the power of breath this past weekend while visiting my dad in the hospital.
He had been admitted due to his high blood pressure. Since I’m convinced yoga can cure most anything, I spent some time researching “yoga poses for high blood pressure.” I found some easy poses, but I mostly found emphasis on the power of breathing to relieve stress.
During my visit with my dad, I sat by him and put my hand on his belly. I walked him through some simple deep-breathing exercises:
- I had him take five deep breaths through his nose all the way into his belly. On the exhale I instructed him to exhale slower than the inhale.
- I had him breathe deeply into his back body for five deep breaths.
- I walked him through five deep breaths into the sides of his body.
- I had him take five deep even breaths into his chest area, and then had him watch as his breathing returned to normal.
When we started the breathing lesson, his bottom blood pressure number (the one that causes concern if it gets above 100) was at 96. After the breathing we checked it again and it had dropped to 76.
I was pleasantly surprised but a little skeptical. Nothing else had changed except his breathing. Could it really have made it drop so quickly?
Thirty minutes later his pressure had risen again to 96. We were talking to my sister through Skype and my dad excitedly said, “Let me show you something!” He started doing his deep breathing. He took five deep breaths and we rechecked his pressure. I was extremely doubtful that anything would change after only five breaths.
Lo and behold, it had dropped to 76 again.
I wanted to run down the halls and tell everyone. Doesn’t the whole world need to know this works?
I didn’t run down the halls, but all of us sitting in the room were equally fascinated by what we had seen.
This was a great reminder to me that as long as I’m alive, I always have access to this powerful source of energy. Being able to teach this to my father was a unique and unparalleled experience.
Tuning into our own breath has endless benefits. Stress reduction is the most obvious one, but it is also key in many kinds of meditation and in pranayama.
I personally find tuning into the breath very centering and humbling. Here I connect with my own life at its core. Here, if I listen carefully, I can hear what my body is trying to tell me. Here I can encourage my breath to regain its balance and in turn help my body regain balance. Here, on this inhale and exhale, I find the purest and most complete version of myself.