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Podcast # 14 Mindfulness and Your Breathing

One of my inspiring teachers, a Dr. Scott-Williamson of the Peckham Experiment fame, said we all live in three states throughout our lives; the first is living , the second is surviving and the third is dying. By living, he meant living healthily, intensely and fully. Enjoying or experiencing every waking moment, the kind of living of most toddlers enjoy, where every day is a wealth of new discoveries, experiences and magic. By surviving, he meant following whatever routine allows us to get through the day, working, eating, sleeping and doing whatever is necessary to make this possible and by dying, he meant the slow aging through the passage of time towards our end of life, a kind of suspended animation. He suggested we should all assess what was the mix of these three states in our own lives. A rich, happy and fulfilling life might be made up of a mix of 70:20:10, but an unhappy, aimless life would be nearer a mix of 10:20:70.
Another way of assessing this would be to check how much time we spend living in the past or worrying about the future as opposed to living in the present. The reality of time is that the past no longer exists and neither does the future, all that is real is this immediate moment, the NOW! In fact there are an infinite number of ”now” moments throughout every waking day and only when we are very young do we live in them most of the time. A special treat promised tomorrow or even later in the day has less impact on the child than what is happening right there and then. What happened yesterday has largely been forgotten as today’s discoveries take all their attention.
However, as we grow older and not always wiser, much of our lives are concerned about what may happen tomorrow or next year and memories of all that happened yesterday or last year cloud our perception of the present.
Sages have for thousands of years taught that we should all learn to be more mindful and aware of the present and there has been a growing new interest in “mindfulness” as a way to a happier life. The problem with trying to be mindful all our waking hours is that it requires the mental discipline on a Buddhist. What gets in the way is the stress of our modern lifestyle that turns us into chickens running round without their heads. If we could be calmer throughout the day despite the stressors we would naturally become more aware and mindful of all around us.
It is interesting to note that all the teachings of mindfulness include breathing exercises and practices, and since our breathing is controlled automatically without any conscious effort on our part, perhaps another way would be to re-learn how to breathe normally by correcting our automatic system. The stressful person is always breathing faster and deeper than necessary, this is because of our primitive “fight or flight” response to any emergency or danger, as if in a state of high alert, as if being attacked by a predator. This is not a state to be in if we want to be fully aware and mindful, it is a critical survival state.
If we could change our automatic breathing to be always quiet, calm and gentle then we would be also be in a quiet, calm and relaxed state ourselves. Our automatic breathing is controlled by receptors in the brain that measure our carbon dioxide levels and adjust our breathing rate to maintain a constant level. Because of habitually being stressed and over-breathing the receptors get used to the low level of carbon dioxide and from then on keep us over-breathing at this stressful state. It is almost impossible to be stressed if our breathing is calm.
The good news is that this is exactly what we can correct with the Buteyko Method of breath training. Students are taught how to effectively reset the receptors in our brain to return our breathing to normal. Once reset they stay that way and we are then better able to meet all the daily stressors with a calmness that allows us to be more mindful naturally, without the need to do specific exercises.

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