Finding Your Power in the Pause with Breath Retention
Did you know there are four parts to the breath? Most conversations centered around breath are broken into two parts: inhalation and exhalation. The space between the inhales and exhales is equally as important. Without the pause that comes at the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale you would be breathing much too fast. Hyperventilation is an example of how breathing looks when the pause is removed.
As you breathe throughout your day this pause is minimal, almost unnoticeable. Every day you breathe in and out over 20,000 times while giving zero thought to the significance. A function of the respiratory system that happens automatically and is vital from your first breath to your last.
Paying Attention to the Pause
The Navy Seals understand the power of the pause probably better than any other organization. They use it as part of their training because it is an optimizing breath practice that helps you stay calm while improving concentration. It’s no surprise this technique is used by a group of high-performance individuals who are known for being put in extremely tense situations. They understand the importance of all four parts of the breath and how it aids in lowering blood pressure. The Seals need to think clearly at all times and slow, stable breaths help them do just that.
Breath retention practices help you focus your attention on the pause both at the top and bottom of your breath. By consciously extending the pause to create a breath hold you bring your attention inward. This concentrated activity focuses the mind intently on what’s happening in the body.
Your breath is your life force, and when you practice breath retention you are cutting off that life force in a controlled manner. Training your autonomic nervous system to stay calm in high-stress situations.
Regulate Your Mind & Body
This incredibly efficient tool not only teaches the nervous system to remain calm, but it also improves concentration as unnecessary mind chatter becomes less important when your breath is on the line. Your mind begins to devote all attention to the activity at hand. When you are practicing a 30-second or one-minute breath hold your mind has only one focus: a desire for breath.
Plus you are training your body to be less reactive to strong needs and desires. Slowing the breath and practicing retention from a controlled space helps you to show up more intentionally. Reminding you how good it feels to be in control. And that nice inhalation of air after a retention hold is the best breath of the day. Energy pulses through the body sending a sense of relief to every cell.
Your breath and your brain are interlinked. One will always follow the other. If you can calm your mind, your breath will follow and if you can calm your breath, the mind will follow. This, of course, works the other way too. If your mind is spinning out of control in rage, lust, or uncertainty, so will the breath. Forcing it to be short and shallow. Moving you into that hyperventilation state where no pause is accounted for.
Practicing breath retentions help us recognize when we are out of balance and guide our mind and body back into regulation.
Box breathing is my all-time favorite breath practice. It has been the single best practice for me to clear my mind, feel into my body, and find inspiration. It is as simple as it is effective.
Conscious breathing does wonders for our health as the respiratory system is connected to all aspects of the body working properly.
Dedicating time to not only notice your breath but also to pay attention to the pause is incredible healing. It has helped me to see my intrinsic connection to all things as I receive breath, hold breath, offer breath, and am breath.
Simple 5-minute practice
- Set a time for 5 minutes
- Find a comfortable seat, crisscross or hips to heels on the floor, or if in a chair: move to the edge so your feet are firmly planted and your spine is straight.
- Soften your gaze
- Bring your attention to your breath.
- Notice where your breath naturally wants to travel
- Allow your body to move gently with the breath
- Guide your breath through your lungs and into your abdomen
- Exhale all the air out through pursed lips
- Seal off the lips and inhale deeply through the nose filling up your belly, ribcage, and chest as you count to 4.
- With your body full of air, hold as you mentally count to 4 again.
- Exhale slowly and unrushed as you once again count to 4
- At the bottom of the exhale close off the mouth and hold as you count to 4
- Inhale and repeat the 4x4x4x4 cycle until the 5-minute alarm sounds.
The first few rounds might feel uneasy or lopsided. But if you stick with it the process begins to be something you can feel. You become calmer and relaxed.
If a 4-count feels easy, count to 5. If it feels tough, count to 3. There is no rule. The best way to begin working with breath retention is to start. Teach yourself how to control your breath. Notice where your breath is traveling. Get curious about what comes up both emotionally and sensationally. These are all clues that will help you better understand yourself and your connection to the world around you.
5 Minutes a Day
Breathwork is a meditation, and in 5 minutes a day, you will set yourself on a path to health, insight, and growth. Breath retention becomes a fun and relaxing activity that you won’t want to miss. You will begin to notice that moment when your inhale becomes an exhale, and when your exhale becomes the wave of the next inhale. There is a powerful connection between your breath and the world around you. If you are looking to deepen your practice and want some guidance along the way, check out my 4-week self-led online course, Breath Mindset, and feel free to leave me a note here as well.