esther m palmer

how to start observing your breath and breathe easier

Last week, I guided my email subscribers to spend the week observing their breath. (Want in? Sign up below!)

Why would you want to spend time observing your breath?

Because there's strong evidence linking breath quality to physical, mental, and emotional health. And then there's my own experience.

Being "in charge" of my breath has changedmylife

If you're new to observing your breath, here are some ideas for where to start.

5 Ways to Get Started Observing Your Breath
  • There's no right way.
  • It's ok to be wherever you are with this. Perfect place to be. Besides, you can't be anywhere else right now, anyway.
  • It can help, if you're ok with it, to be still and close the eyes. (Not ok with those? Not so helpful then, are they? You can leave them be and move on.)
  • Ready-ish?
    • Where do you feel movement?
    • Can you hear your breath? If you can, try describing the sound.
    • It can be useful to compare your inhale and exhale length (is one longer?). It might help you to count, but it might not.
  • You can acknowledge that noticing your breath might be: tough, scary, uncomfortable, distracting, exhilarating, or whatever it is for you. (It's been all those things for me, at one point or another.)

Somewhere in observing the breath, even if you don't like doing it, you're likely to meet a part of yourself worth listening to.

Like the story from one of my students who is eager to learn how to use her breath to improve her mood throughout her day.

She read through my suggestions, pulled up a chair, sat down, closed her eyes, and started observing her breath.

Within less than a minute, she felt light headed. It was disconcerting.

Remembering that there is no right way to observe self, she opened her eyes.

Within another minute, she felt better. And as she continued to pay attention to her breath, she noticed feeling grounded. Calm. With her eyes open and able to take in her surroundings, she stayed connected to her physicality.

That was quite something for her.

Now, she keeps her eyes open. And she practices observing her breath in many situations --standing in line, walking the dog, or doing the dishes.

Breath observation can help us come back to "home base." 

A big part of this is responding to what you notice.

Say you notice that observing your breath makes you strain to lengthen your exhale. No good! Go ahead and switch your focus to something mundane, like what's for dinner, to give your breath a change to regain normalcy.

Then, when you're ready, you might be able to reflect a bit. Can you tell what caused you to strain? Even if you're not sure, can you change something about your approach that might help you to avoid straining?

Taking action to change your situation can be the difference between giving up and finding a way to feel comfortable inside your own skin.

Here's a basic practice that can help us all find our way --through unique experiences-- to a comfortable breath.

Whole Torso Breathing

I call this whole torso breathing because we try to allow movement in the whole torso. That's a big area, so it helps to think of the torso as having three sections: upper chest, middle torso, and low belly.

  1. Lie down on your back with your knees bent -or- sit "upright" in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. You can close your eyes if it helps you focus. You can also keep them open if you prefer.
  3. Gently start to observe your breath. Then draw your attention to the movement of the breath in the three sections of the torso:
    1. Low Belly: Place a hand comfortably on your low belly. Observe any movement you feel there while you breathe.
    2. Upper Chest: Place a hand comfortably on your upper chest. Observe any movement you feel there while you breathe.
    3. Middle Torso: Place a hand comfortably on either side of your low ribs. Observe any movement you feel there while you breathe.
  4. Release your hands and check in: What did you notice? Did one section move more than the others? Was there lots of movement? Not much? Take what you noticed into what you do next.
  5. As you inhale, see if you can allow movement in all three sections of your torso. (Over the course of the inhale, not all at once.) Same thing as you exhale. Continue for one minute or more.

That's it. Sounds simple, but it's effective.

No need to take my word for it. Fit in five minutes daily (shucks, I'll take weekly), and you'll be able to tell me what it's doing for you.

Send me your comments below, I read and respond to every message. And hey, if you end up finding this useful, share it with your friends. Everyone's gotta breathe, right?

Observing with you,


Thoughts or questions? I'd love to hear them.

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