Hello 2009! It’s a new year. Time for socializing, eating and drinking—and also the time for reflection and the infamous New Year’s resolutions! Reflection is a great thing. It’s good to evaluate our situation, take inventory and access what has been working for us, what hasn’t, and what’s lacking in our lives. This lets us come up with plans or resolutions to make the appropriate changes so we can obtain what we desire.
We start with new exercise plans, diets, commitment to dating new people, and we manage to keep it up for a few weeks...and then it seems to fizzle out. Sound familiar? But—why do we dread resolutions? Why do we start out strong with good intentions but can’t seem to follow through?
There are, of course, many answers. But one way to look at it is that, even though we desire new things in our life and we want to change and grow, we forget that in order to do that, we must go through a period that is uncomfortable and we need to give up some of the old ways to make room for the new. We can’t seem to break out of our ruts or old habits, so, eventually, we fall back into the old ways.
Also, many of us do everything we can to avoid feeling uncomfortable. We either numb ourselves out with food, various stimulants, TV, the internet, working out—or we overstress ourselves to the point of cutting off our feelings. A good example of this is the current workaholic epidemic, which causes burnout and many stress-related ailments.
Two powerful ways to ensure success in transforming yourself and opening to happiness are through conscious breathing and stretching. In past articles, Waiting to Inhale and Stretch Your Body, Stretch Your Life, I spoke in detail about the benefits of these two practices. Check them out.
The bottom line of these two approaches is that they help you break old patterns and habits—physical, emotional and mental—as well as become more comfortable with change, the unknown and risk taking. In this article we will look at conscious breathing.
Breathe Away Your Habits
Here’s how breathing can help you shift into the new you. As I mentioned in the previous article, your breath is a great indicator of who you are at this moment in time. The breath reflects how you hold yourself, how much tension you have, and how open you are to experience and feelings. Because of past emotional and physical influences, as well as cultural conditioning, we have set up restrictive patterns of holding which has tightened up our bellies and chests and has limited the capacity of breath we take in. It is a simple biological fact that the deeper your breath, the more oxygen your body takes in—and this is essential for physical health, vitality, depth of feeling and mental agility. Because we are naturally “creatures of habit”, we tend to gravitate towards what is familiar and safe, even if it might not be the best for us.
So one way to change and open to a new you is to influence and change these patterns in your body. When you start increasing your breath capacity, you will notice that colors are brighter, that you have more energy, that you've become more dynamic, have more confidence and are more excited about life—and that makes you more attractive to others! This could lead to you meeting the boyfriend you have always wanted, or maybe getting noticed at work, leading to a possible promotion.
Here are some exercises to practice changing your breathing patterns. Remember, all these techniques need to be practiced often so that they become a new habit.
This is a great exercise to do when you notice your breath is fast and short. That kind of breathing indicates that you are experiencing some level of stress or fear. By doing this breath exercise, you can actually calm yourself down. I often do this breath before a work interview, or even a date with someone new.
Sit comfortably and take a few minutes to go within. Listen to your natural breath and let your belly relax with each breath. When you are ready, breathe out and exhale fully through your mouth. You should notice that your belly goes inward towards your spine. Then breathe in slowly through your nose. You should notice that your belly expands and gets bigger. Breathe in very slowly through your nose without creating any tension. Hold the breath for a moment and then simply release the breath. There is no need to push out the breath. Just let it pour out of your body. Breathe in fully and breathe out fully. Exert yourself on the inhale and practice fully letting go on the exhale. Take about fifteen minutes for this and try to do it at least three times a week. Keep practicing this until it becomes a new habit, second nature.
Actually, this is a great metaphor for how to approach life. The breath is a beautiful symbol for the rhythm of life. Everything in the universe shares a similar pattern—it has a moment of birth, it then builds slowly towards its highest point, and the rest is a process of letting go. The practice of letting go is a fundamental part of most spiritual traditions. The more we are able to let go of things—the past, people, old beliefs—the wiser and less fearful we become. This leads to a natural inner peace. This breath brings you more in alignment with the natural rhythms around you, opening you to receiving more, to experiencing more, and to being in the right time and the right place to encounter those things you are desiring.
This breath is best to do when you are feeling tired, or unfocussed, or bored. This helps to get energy flowing. I find it helps to get me motivated when I am procrastinating, or feeling discouraged. It tends to give me the courage and confidence I need to do the things I am avoiding.
Sit comfortably and take a few minutes to go within. Listen to your natural breath and let your belly relax with each breath. Start with some slow Relaxing Breath to get you into your body. Then begin to increase the rhythm of your breathing. Try to inhale 100 percent, taking in the maximum amount of air you can. Be sure to exhale fully. Notice that as you go faster your belly will seem like it is bouncing—pushing out as you inhale, coming in towards your spine as you exhale. Try to keep doing this for one to three minutes without stopping. As you become more familiar with this breath you can increase the time. When you are done, sit in silence with your eyes closed, coming back to the general breath, or natural breath.
This is a fun time to sit and just notice what happens to you physically, emotionally or mentally. You have just taken in a lot of oxygen, so you may feel dizzy. That’s a good sign! That means that you are waking up your body, emotions, and imagination. So sit back and enjoy the ride. You may also notice that you feel discomfort in your body, or slight pain, or tensions. Great. What you are experiencing is a deeper connection with yourself and your body. You are shifting the patterns that keep you in a rut and prevent you from making changes. And, you may notice feelings coming up—sadness, joy, anger, and fear. Let them flow. Let yourself feel them. This is a good sign that you are clearing out old hurts and old stories that are keeping you from opening to new experiences.
It is important to practice this when you are seated and not doing other activities. Try doing this at least three times a week until it becomes a new habit, second nature.
Keep It Up!
The challenge, of course, is that you have to really practice conscious breathing every day and make it a part of your life. On the path of fully waking up, we encounter fear and the uncertainty of the unknown, and may run back to the old patterns of numbness and familiarity. This is exactly the moment to persevere. If we choose not to feel fully the pressures and anxieties of life, we also don’t get to feel fully the joys and the adventures that life has to offer us.
And once we have gained the skills to successfully change our patterns, we can move into the next step of how to effectively transform, grow and open to true happiness—conscious stretching, the ability to stay on that edge of your comfort zone and dare to move gently into the unknown to discover the new you. And I’m going to keep you on your edge until my next article when I will explain fully how this works…
Editor's note: Joe Weston, the author of this piece, will be holding Respectful Confrontation workshops in February and March in Washington, D.C., Amsterdam, and Oakland, California. It's a great chance to learn more about his techniques in person. Joe is happy to offer a 50 dollar discount to the RealJock community. If interested, please sign up!
About Joe Weston: Joe Weston is an international workshop facilitator and personal life coach. Born and educated in New York, Joe lived in Amsterdam for 17 years and now lives in California. He is committed to helping others embody spirituality and supports others in their journey towards personal fulfillment and empowerment. Joe brings a wealth of insight to his work based on many teachings, including Tai Chi Chuan and various spiritual traditions—plus his experience in theater and various organizational trainings. He also volunteers for the Liberation Prison Project, teaching Buddhism to inmates. For more info or to book a session with Joe, visit www.joeweston.com. . Or, visit his blog.