Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing by Andrew Weil, M.D. (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1999). Audiobook.
Would you like to access a mind-expanding, consciousness-raising, and stress-reducing treatment—one that’s simple, safe, effective, free, and always available? You can, because it’s literally right under your nose. This treatment is breathing.
In this audiobook, Weil explores the subtleties of breathing as a means to promote physical health, regulate emotional states, and directly experience our spiritual nature.
Weil directs the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Integrative medicine seeks to combine the best of mainstream and alternative medicine. It’s based on the idea that the body can heal itself if given a chance. Dietary change, stress reduction, and herbal remedies are some of the recommended strategies.
However, Weil says that one technique consistently generates the most positive feedback—breath work.
Four keys to better breathing
To experience the full benefits of breathing, Weil suggests that you remember these four words:
- More regular
This makes a lot of sense. Check it out for yourself: Notice the qualities of your breathing when you’re feeling calm. Chances are that some or all of the words from above list will be accurate descriptors.
Also notice what happens when you feel angry, afraid, or otherwise upset. Your breathing is likely to marked by the opposite of the above qualities. That is, you are likely to breathe in more rapid, shallow, irregular, and noisy ways.
When to change your breathing
As Weil points out, you can’t just command yourself to stop feeling upset. But in any moment, you can change your breathing to become deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular.
Over time, you’ll find that this practice can alter your emotional states. The changes might be subtle, but they can reduce your suffering enough to make a difference.
Breath work supports behavior change, too. Say that you’ve sworn off desserts as a weight loss strategy—and you suddenly feel a strong urge to devour a pint of ice cream.
Just notice the urge and breathe into it. The urge will rise and peak before it tapers off. While it peaks, make your breathing deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular. Breathing allows you to ride out the urge until it passes away.
The simplest breathing technique
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you probably did some pranayama (breath exercises). Over the last couple thousand years or so, yogis have developed pranayama into a high art with dozens of complex practices.
But Weil begins with a simple technique you can use right now: Just pay attention to your breathing without seeking to change it in any way. The mere act of observing your breathing tends to make it deeper, slower, quieter, and more regular.
In Breathing, Weil explains and demonstrates other techniques as well. For a preview of them, check this link to his website.
Image by dustyknapp, Flickr Creative Commons