Big breath, big life

You want a life of fulfillment, success, opportunity, and joy. You want to overcome your challenges, and fully experience all the tribulations that come your way.

You want a big life.

To get there, you need a big breath.

What this means is that you need to retrain the way that you breathe so that you breath is optimal, so that you're breathing deeply, slowly, rhythmically, and fully, rather than breathing high in your chest, rapidly, arrhythmically, and shallowly.

In short, you need to breathe both bigger and better. Why?

The Sufis -- those mystical, meditating sages who originated in the Middle East -- have a saying:

Half a breath, half a life.

What this means is that a pattern of breathing that is shallow, where you effectively use only a small portion of your breathing capacity, cuts you off from your vital essence to the detriment of your body, mind, and spirit. Let's take a look at each of these.

Body

Breathing shallowly, arrhythmically, and high in the chest (also called "thoracic breathing") characterizes the type of breathing that comes from stress. This way of breathing causes a negative cycle where emotional stress leads to physiological stress, for it causes a condition known as hypocapnia.

Hypocapnia, also called "overbreathing", is when the blood CO2 level falls below a certain critical level of pressure (35 mm Hg), which leads to something called respiratory alkylosis, a chemical reaction where the blood becomes too alkaline for red blood cells to function correctly. Without the proper level of CO2, red blood cells cannot effectively make use of the oxygen in the bloodstream, thereby starving the tissues and organs in your body of oxygen, a condition known as hypoxia.

This is why breathing badly can cause everything from muscle aches, tingling, to nerve issues, digestive issues, and potentially to serious illnesses as well -- astoundingly, scientists haven't much studied bad breathing as a root cause of illness. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that hypoxia signals a grave disruption of the body's circulation of vital life energy.

Mind

The place where you can most easily see the effects of hypoxia is the brain. Look at this image, which shows the oxygenation of the brain under normal breathing (CO2 above 35 mmHg), and hypoxia due to hypocapnia (CO2 below 35 mmHg):

The brain on the right has far less oxygen, and as a consequence, performance is reduced. Now your mind is more than just your brain, but it should be obvious that starving the brain -- or any bodily organ or tissue -- of oxygen is bad.

We also know that rapid, shallow breathing causes an anxiety response, bringing a host of hormonal and endocrine responses as your body's "fight-or-flight" trigger gets activated. Re-training your breathing helps your mind slow down, and calm down. Slower brainwaves (up to a point) are better for concentration. Rapid, high-frequency brainwaves are associated with stress, and aren't good for complex thinking and analysis.

Spirit

Bad breathing tends to cut you off from your emotions, which are intimately connected to the intangible world of soul and spirit. When you feel a strong emotion, it tends to disrupt your breathing, causing the physiological stress/anxiety response I mentioned above. If this becomes your unconscious pattern, you'll tend to want to avoid your emotions, because you associate strong feelings with a very unpleasant stress response.

Over time, you listen less and less to your heart, feeling less and less emotion, cutting you off from the wellspring of your spirit.

How to Get a Big Breath

Breathing bigger and better is going to take some work, because breathing is largely unconscious. To re-train your breathing is going to require focusing on your breath intensively. The best way to do that is through meditation.

However, not all kinds of meditation focus on making your breath optimal in the ways that I've described; in fact, very few approaches to meditation and very few teachers of meditation have much to say about the breath beyond that you should pay attention to it.

I teach a course called Meditation Basics that will teach you the 5 aspects of optimal breathing, starting at the very beginning.

Master the techniques I teach in this course and you will transform your breath and your life.