I wrote about developing your complete triangle in the last post, but as I said the triangle can always grow bigger and stronger. There is one action that develops all three sides of the triangle; mind, body and soul. It is a simple act that, when done mindfully, can change your life.
Are you curious?
Here’s a hint: you’re doing it right now.
Do you give up?
Ok, it’s breathing. Wait! Don’t stop reading. I promise this is not stupid.
Here is how breathing improves the complete triangle: If you focus on something as simple and repetitious as breathing your mind shuts off. I just wrote in the last post how important it is to develop your mind, but it’s also important to be able to shut it off when it’s not servicing you. Your mind voices your doubts and self-criticism. Your mind is what creates the to-do list while you should be enjoying yourself. So the more you practice shutting it off, the more control you gain.
As for body, have you ever tried doing something physical that you didn’t think you could, but then someone tells you to breathe and all of a sudden you can? Kind of like Lamaze or weight lifting. The breath has this magical power that imbues you with strength and confidence. And again it shuts off your brain that’s tell you “this is too hard.”
And as for spirit, nothing helps you feel more centered and calm like breathing. It reminds you that no matter what, as long as you take another breath you are still alive. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Recently I have been taking Alexander Technique classes as well as seeing a chiropractor. I put these under the body category of my triangle. I didn’t want running to be the only method that I use for developing my body. I’ve always wanted to walk with poise and get rid of my computer slouch posture. But every part of the triangle is connected, so if I want to improve my body I also have to improve the way my mind and spirit interact with my body. This is also described as feeling grounded or more comfortable in your skin.
Alexander Technique is all about being aware of your body, and allowing your mind to control gestures to maximize movement and eliminate unneeded stress and tension. Breathing is a huge part of the study. We often think of breathing as involuntary, but the speed in which we breathe, the volume of air we take in, and the level of intention we use with each breath is absolutely in our control. By focusing on the breath it calms you, and reminds you that you can let things happen, or you can make things happen. (I will put more info about these classes at the end of the post.)
When I started seeing my Chiropractor guess what he told me to focus on? You got it: breathing. He explained that the tightness I feel in my upper back is caused from shallow breathing. When I’m slouched over the computer all day, by rib cage is folding over my organs, basically cutting out half of the available lung space. Sit like you would when you’ve been at a computer for a while and take 5 short breaths. Do you feel the tiny muscles around your upper spine flexing? Now sit up straight and take 5 deep breaths (don’t raise your shoulders – allow the air to fill up your whole torso). You don’t feel those little muscles anymore, right? You feel it in your stomach. That’s because the large, strong diaphragm muscles are what should be helping us breathe, not the little muscles around our spine. We over use those little muscles and they get strained, and tight. That’s why I, and many other nerds, experience that kind of back pain.
So here’s a breathing exercise I learned in yoga. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed. If this is uncomfortable lie down. Think of someone very important to you. Think of how happy you want them to be and how grateful you are to have him/her in your life. Now take a deep breath in through your nose (most likely you’ll be smiling). Let that breath expand you; push your sides out, let it push your torso to the ground. Keep inhaling until you feel like you’re going to burst. That air is your gratitude and you want to fill yourself with it. Picture that special person again, and then let all the air out in one slow controlled exhale. Do this a few more times. You’ll probably feel light headed afterward, so wait a few minutes before standing.
Alexander is very popular among performing artists because it enhances stage presence and poise, as well as improves breathing technique. I’m taking classes with a teacher in training at the main institute near Union Square, so it’s much cheaper than normal. One of the fellow students is a concert pianists and he started taking classes years ago after he injured his wrist and couldn’t play for 4 years. He was able to eliminate the unnecessary stress that was causing the pain, and now he’s playing professionally again! If you live near Manhattan and wish to go to the same school, the classes are 45 minutes long and they cost $8 each. For a certified teacher, prices can range from $30-$80. The school that I’m going to has trained many teachers and can give you referrals for teachers all over the World.