A safe, powerful exercise for belly breathing. A version of this exercise will be included in "Free Your Breath, Free Your Life," by Dennis Lewis, due out from Shambhala in May 2004.
Before we were born, our mother provided through our umbilical cord the nutrients, food, and oxygen that we needed to live. In many traditions, the area just below the navel and midway into the body is considered to be a sacred center of energy. In any event, our belly is one of the major areas that get tight and tense when we are under a lot of stress. And this greatly affects our internal organs, our breath, our energy, and our overall health. In this breathing exercise, we are going to work with "belly breathing" in order to open our belly and allow our diaphragm to move deeper into our abdomen on inhalation. This will have a powerful influence on our respiration, on the way we breathe in the many conditions of our lives.
1. Lie down comfortably on your back on your bed or on a mat or carpeted floor. Position yourself with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent (pointing upward). Simply follow your breathing for a minute or two with your attention. See if you can sense which parts of your body your breath touches.
2. Continue to follow your breathing as you rub your hands together until they are very warm. Put your hands (one on top of the other) on your belly, with the center of your lower hand touching your navel. Watch how your breathing responds. You may notice that your belly wants to expand as you inhale and retract as you exhale. Let this happen, but don’t try to force it.
3. If your belly seems tight, rub your hands together again until they are warm and then massage your belly, especially right around the outside edge of your belly button. Notice how your belly begins to soften and relax.
4. Now rub your hands together again until they are warm and put them on your belly again. Watch how this influences your breath. Do not try to do anything. Simply watch and enjoy as your belly begins to come to life, expanding as you inhale and retracting as you exhale.
5. If your belly still seems overly tight and does not want to move as you breathe, press down with your hands on your belly as you exhale. Then as you inhale, gradually release the tension. Try this several times.
6. Before you stop, be sure to sense your entire abdominal area, noting any special sensations of warmth, comfort, and energy. Let these sensations spread into all the cells of your belly all the way back to your spine.
This simple practice, a version of which is included in Dennis' new book "Free Your Breath, Free Your Life," will have a highly beneficial affect on your breathing, especially if you do it on a regular basis. Remember that you can try this practice at any time of the day or night. Though it’s easiest if you are lying down, you can also do it sitting, standing, walking, and so on. It is an excellent practice to try before you get out of bed in the morning. It is also an excellent practice to work with whenever you are anxious or tense, since it will help relax you and center your energy. Over time, it will help deepen your breathing and make it more natural.