Bliss begins with the breath. We breathe in, and accept all that is new. We breathe out, and release all that has passed. When we breathe deeply, we have the potential of attaining the same trancelike euphoria found in meditation, prayer, chanting, ecstatic dance, kirtan and by listing to particular kinds of music.
Yet we don't have to do this in a yoga room, on a massage table or in meditation. We can achieve this blissful state anywhere, at any time.
One method of reaching the euphoric state is through the technique of The Calming Breath, said Dr. Steve Koc, a long-healer and practitioner of Kundalini yoga. To begin the Calming Breath, sit down, close your eyes, and start breathing long and deep, in through the nose. Fill the belly, fill the chest with air, and hold it for a while. Then let it out slowly and fully through the nose – hold it out. Remember, you hold the breath in, but you also hold it out; both are important. The key is to slow this cycle, to slow down your breath rate.
You can do this deep breath anywhere. In line at the post office, sitting in traffic. "They say 'wherever you go, there you are,' but what's also true is that wherever you go, there is your breath," Dr. Koc said.
The way to use the Calming Breath to reach bliss is to practice techniques frequently and regularly, so that your body, musculature and glandular system get used to being in that state, he explained. In this way, when you come across a situation that causes anxiety, you can mechanically begin the breath technique, and your body will instantly revert to that state of deep relaxation.
"It's the concept of nerve accommodation," said Dr. Steve Koc. "The nerves fire off easier every time you use them; that's how habits get formed. When we are training the nervous system with a new breathing technique, the muscles and nerves learn the pattern; they will reach it faster and more efficiently each time."
To slow the breath further actually causes a shift in your body's hormones. Start by breathing 6-11 breaths per minute, to give your body a chance to incorporate the change. Then, slow down to one to five breaths per minute, with one breath cycle being an inhale, hold in, exhale, hold out. "This will create the physiological and psychological response of the meditative state," said Dr. Koc. "It's very restorative."
The result of this carefully slowed breath is that the glands release, the muscles relax, and the parasympathetic nervous system becomes dominant, as opposed to the sympathetic system.
"The sympathetic is our fight or flight system, the adrenal based system of our body chemistry. It rules nervous excitability. The parasympathetic system is the at-ease state, the relaxed state in which your body does self-healing and rejuvenation. It's the way you feel right before you drift off to sleep, the feeling of peace and calm you get when you are in nature, or when you are day-dreaming," said Dr. Koc.
If you can slow your breath with the Calming Breath, you will be able to get near to, or actually within the parasympathetic state, where your body does self-healing.
Breath of Life, Breath of Death
"We talk about the idea of holding the breath out," said Dr. Koc. "This is the place of no breath at the end of your exhale. It is the opposite of what you do when you hold your breath in."
"The ancient yogis have said that by mastering the practice of holding the breath out, one can master the fear of death, or failure. By mastering the practice of holding the breath in, one can master fear of life, or success," he said.
"It's strange, but many people are more afraid of success than of failure. They are more afraid to really live fully, then to live a deadened life," Koc said.
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