Breathing is, of course, essential for our staying alive. Fortunately, it reliably continues day and night without our having to consciously do it or even think about it. So, you might logically ask, “Why in the world, when so many other things require our attention, should we bother paying conscious attention, even briefly, to our breathing.” If we are satisfied with just staying alive, there probably is no good reason. But it turns out that occasional consciousbreathing can have a tremendous impact on the quality of our life.
Paying attention to our breath for even a few seconds slows down and even momentarily totally displaces our usual constant flow of thinking. It’s almost impossible to pay close attention to the characteristics of our breathing and at the same time think about our problems. Try it for just one conscious breath. Focus on one or more sensations of that breath – the expansion and contraction of your chest or belly, the temperature and feel of air moving in and then out of your nostrils, or the sounds of your inhale and exhale. Now try it again for one more breath – focusing even more on those sensations.
Science has shown a surprising number of benefits of conscious breathing. This article from Healthline includes links to detailed information about many conscious breathing practices and how they improve health and quality of life.
The primary element of a conscious breathing practice is simple awareness – noticing that we are in fact now breathing in, and now breathing out. If we notice we are holding our breath at any moment, that may be a signal that something has alarmed us, but taking several deep, conscious breaths can calm our catastrophizing minds and lower our elevated heart rates.
Yawning, surprisingly, can be used as an especially valuable kind of conscious breathing. This article from the Spirituality and Health website suggests twelve reasons to consciously yawn every day and also offers suggestions for a daily yawning practice. Who knew!!
As with the other practices in this booklet, one of the primary reasons for engaging in conscious breathing or conscious yawning is to stop the flow of the thoughts that so often run unchallenged through our brains. As amazing and useful as our thinking can be, our thoughts are not the totality, or even the essence of our identity. When we can step back and notice our thoughts and then dare to stop them for a moment, we are waking up to and connecting with our real self.