We know breath sustains life and many have become more deeply involved in the breathing process through contact with meditation practices where breath is central. This focus should continue throughout life by keeping in conscious touch with how you are breathing because breathing habits can change according to the dynamics of one’s life, sometimes disadvantageously.
I became obsessed with diaphragmatic breathing way back in the ’50s when Lee Strasberg was my first teacher in NYC. I worked with him and other Actor’s Studio teachers such as Kazan, Arthur Penn,John Lehne, and John Stix for years. It was here that diaphragmatic breathing became a primary focus. Many of the Method exercises like private moments and sensory work were rooted in relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing was the support system. Lee had his very special and often humorous ways of determining if and when one was relaxed. I loved the man as I did Stix and Lehne; they played a large part in my early training,
The first misdirection of breath is high chest breathing and for many it is an extremely daunting task to transform. Over70s who have practiced high chest breathing for a lifetime will initially experience a major challenge but press on as it is absolutely imperative for better health, controlling pain and joyful well being. You will need to become obsessed with it as I did. That means you think about it with gusto throughout the day. The great thing is you can work on it wherever you are and whatever you are doing – so there is no excuse for avoidance. In fact lying prone on a bed is a great place to begin.
Lying down place one hand on the abdomen and one on the upper chest, sternum level. Inhale slowly and do not allow the upper chest to move upward toward the neck. Simultaneously place the other hand over the waist area and feel it expanding in a horizontal direction, meaning don’t create a watermelon belly. That kind of distention is a very bad habit. Make sure the anal area is totally relaxed throughout this practice and try to feel weight in your feet. This will help draw the energy into the lower body and keep it from moving up the spine toward the neck to produce that uncomfortable choking feeling. All this will take a while to accomplish I assure you.
Throughout your day slow the inhalation down to an extended 4 count and the exhalation to an even slower 8 count. At the moment of the inhale release all the muscles that have tightened during the exhalation or it will become uncomfortable and sometimes impossible to do a series of breaths. Slow breathing gives an immediate feeling of joyful ecstasy and often reveals an abiding smile.
Have you noticed the habit of breath-holding? We all do it and it’s a nasty habit used to block emotional expression. The major ramification of breath holding is a general hardening of the muscles creating greater tension throughout the body. Hold your breath for several seconds and observe changes that occur. It also reduces the radiant light streaming from the body, reducing the charisma effect. This is visible to the sensitive eye.
It will take extended time to accomplish continuous diaphragmatic breathing. When you truly make it your own it will never go away but intermittent breath holding continues and must be monitored on a regular basis. Make a mental note to check it out in stressful situations.
I highly recommend Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams. Make sure to read the chapter on p67: Zen Breathing which tells of how slow controlled diaphragmatic breathing saved his life. “This technique which I had been taught as a prelude to Aikido, is an aspect of Zen practice that makes one oblivious to external impressions. The more I concentrated on my breathing, the more immune I became to the fear that I was dying. Within a few minutes I was in control of myself and my body again.“