Breathwork for inner silence often goes overlooked due to the nature of breathing. All of us breathe for the entire duration of our lives. Rarely though, we use conscious breathing as the powerful tool it can be.
Why Using Breathwork for Inner Silence is Often Overlooked
Within seconds after birth, we take our first breath. As the central nervous system adjusts to the new environment outside the mother’s womb, we gasp for air. This gasp is the first breath of some 600 million inhalations the average human will take in her lifetime.
And thanks to the autonomous nervous system we never need to think about our breathing, it just happens.
As the adage goes, it wasn’t the fish that discovered water. Likewise, we are prone to overlook our breathing as it naturally is part of every moment we pass.
Only in exceptional circumstances, our breath calls for particular attention. For women when preparing for childbirth. When taking deep breaths to deal with stage fright, or when exhaling sharply due to a bad smell.
These moments illustrate the valve-like function of our breath performs for body and mind and the situations we face.
With Awareness, Finding Inner Calm through Breathing Becomes Available
At the same time, bringing awareness to our breath enables us to consciously experience its power over our bodies as well as our minds.
When it comes to disturbing sounds while we are still not aware of our breathing, our anger and frustration will naturally increase our breath rate.
For example, for misophonia sufferers, specific sounds trigger intense emotional reactions that, with a sudden increase in the breath frequency, reminiscent of gearing the physical body up for a fight-or-flight reaction. In the case of phonophobia, this kind of response will be even more intense and indiscriminate. Also, for the highly sensitive person, any adverse reaction to painful noise will unavoidably involve a sudden change in the breathing pattern.
So, why not take control of your breath and aim at reversing the pattern triggered by noise? The goal here is to use the breath as an internal anchor to distract your mind from the external sound and create your own, inner, calming music.
That’s right, we can use the breath as our noise machine, and we can up the volume to support the mind to settle.
Depending on our level of noise sensitivity, we can use the external nuisance as an invitation to anchor us back in the breath and the body.
Without awareness, our mental reaction to noise pollution triggers the breath and our body into a downward and unpleasant response. But yogis have known for thousands of years that we can use the breath to control the mind and the body. Enter breathwork, a potent way to work our mind and coax us more inner calm.
Breathwork for Inner Silence: Three Powerful Exercises For Immediate Results
Breathwork is a broad term drawing upon various traditions. Sometimes associated with New Age, I am using the word to indicated conscious work and practice with the breath regardless of any ideology. You will be your judge if breathwork works for you.
The most important sources for breathwork are the ancient yogic science of Pranayama and Buteyko breathing.
In the yogic system, pranayama commonly goes by breath control, only partly capturing the full meaning of this ancient practice. Prana means ‘life force’ or ‘vital energy,’ and ‘Ayama’ translates to an extension of expansion.
Each of the manifold pranayama breathing techniques creates different feelings, for example, cooling, heating, calming, lightheadedness, or alertness. But within the underlying purpose of yoga, pranayama aims to unblock pathways to the brain and nervous system to prepare for the experience of pure consciousness.
The Buteyko method devised by Ukrainian medical doctor Buteyko applies breathing exercises mainly to increase the capacity for breath-hold to relieve respiratory diseases. The Buteyko breathing method has been shown to improve the health of people with asthma, smoking-related conditions, sleep apnea (breathing problems while sleeping) as well as hay fever.
Now, here are three breathwork exercises that can help with finding your inner silence in the adversity of noise pollution.
Breath, whenever you can, through the nose. If your sinuses or nasal passages are too obstructed, still try to inhale through your nose, even if there is resistance, and exhale through the mouth.
I. Finding Your Inner Calm with Ujaii Breathing
Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) commonly translates to ‘victorious breath’ and is a pranayama technique to enhance practice in the Ashtanga and Vinyasa tradition. Some yogis call it ‘riding the breath’ when synchronizing movement with Ujaii breathing. But Ujaii breathing can also perfectly well be practiced when sitting still, waiting at a traffic light, cooking, or in any other life situation for that matter. If you exercise your breathing at home, try closing your eyes.
Physiologically speaking, Ujjayi is resistance breathing, reducing the airflow by slight contraction of the glottis muscles. Ideally, inhalation and exhalation are of equal length and smoothly merge into each other without interruption. You are initiating the breath with the diaphragm deep in your belly. Inhale, belly rises, exhale, stomach falls.
Think of the waves of an ocean rolling unto the sandy shore, in and out again. This rolling ocean is the sound that Ujaii breathing causes at the back of your throat. Hence, also its name ‘oceanic’ breath. And when you actively listen to the waves rolling at the end of your throat, this will override any other thoughts you currently might have. So the breath is ‘victorious’ over your mind and your body.
The intrathoracic pressure due to the constriction of the glottis can result in intensified vagal activity stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, i.e., calming you down.
Once you get the hang of Ujaii breathing, it instantaneously allows you to calm your mind by focusing on your breath. This focus helps you override thoughts that trigger the downward spiral towards noise distraction and rage.
II. Develop You Inner Poise with ‘Box Breathing’
Next up is ‘box breathing,’ which also the Navy Seals learn in their training to focus their mind and manage extreme stress. The Navy Seals are the U.S. Navy’s primary special operations force, are renowned for their excruciating training, and naturally have to be fit to remain calm in the face of utmost danger.
The practice of box breathing consists of inhaling, holding the breath, exhaling, holding the breath, inhaling again, and so forth at equal lengths, typically to a count of five.
This kind of breathing is best for early morning when you prepare for the day ahead. Practice this breathing in a relaxed sitting position and focus your attention on your breath. Box breathing can help to develop a calm, focused mind that excels at managing stress, thus making you more resilient to external disturbance during the day ahead.
III. Use Anuloma Viloma Or Alternate Nostril Breathwork for Inner Silence
Anuloma Viloma, or ‘alternate nostril breathing,’ is one of the most common pranayama techniques and also best practiced in the morning as preparation for the day ahead.
Its purpose is to stimulate and balance the entire body. Commonly, one side of our body is dominant. As the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa, alternate nostril breathing aims at harmonizing both sides.
Yoga manuals can get quasi-religious about the details of specific practices and, at times, differ in between traditions. For our purpose here, the basic tenets are of importance. So go ahead and start, refinement comes through practice as we reflect on the details.
First, come into a comfortable seated position, with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed. Begin by bringing your awareness to your breath and ever so slightly deepen your inhalations and exhalations. Breathe through your nose at all times. Close your eyes.
Now, raise your right hand in front of your face and curl the ring and small finger into the palm. At the same time, leave the thumb, index, and middle finger free and extended. In yoga, this hand position is called Vishnu mudra.
Breathing is Personal – Develop Your Breathwork Your Way
Maintain Vishnu mudra throughout the entire practice and use it to facilitate the alternating blocking of your nostrils. Best try this before you begin the breathing exercise. Start by closing the right nostril with your thumb, then also close also the left nostril with index and middle fingers. By turning your hand, lift the thumb off your right nostril, then close both nostrils again, open left, and so forth. You get the idea, and with practice, only by slight turning the right hand around your nose, you rhythmically block and open right and left nostrils, with both being blocked in between.
Alternate nostril breathing starts and ends on the left side. So, place your thumb on the right nostril and draw in your breath through the left nostril to the count of four.
Then, close both nostrils and hold your breath to the count of eight. Keep your shoulders relaxed while holding your breath.
Then exhale on the right to the count of eight. And continue with inhaling on the right to the count of four. Hold your breath with booths nostrils closed to the count of eight. Exhale on the left to the count of Eight and inhale again to the count of four.
And repeat, making it smooth and effortless as you develop your practice. Aim for eight rounds. After completing the last series through exhaling on your left, remain seated with your eyes closed and sense the inner calm and silence spreading through your body.
Anuloma Viloma is a progression of box breathing. You can practice this breathing technique every morning or whenever you feel the need to ground yourself.
Counting to four on inhalations and to eight on breath holds and exhalations is a good start. But you can, of course, find your personal best timing. And extend timing as you become more familiar with your practice.
In any case, make exhalations longer than inhalations and breath-hold the longest.
So Now What? The Wider Context of Using Breathwork for Inner Silence
Breathing is an automatic regulation mechanism in our bodies. The wording ‘breath of life’ epitomizes the vital importance of breathing in everything.
So this is an invitation and an urging nudge to make breathwork a conscious endeavor to develop your inner calm.
Working with your breath is fascinating. Conscious breathing helps control your mind.
Breathwork is a fantastic tool on the path of conquering fear and strengthening inner calm.
Of course, using noise-reduction gadgetry may be necessary to deal with noise pollution in your environment. But using breathwork for inner silence is your first and natural choice. Because finding your inner calm through breathing builds your emotional resilience against excessive noise and is entirely free.
Use Ujaii breathing wherever and whenever to bring your attention back to yourself and feel calmer immediately. Do regular box breathing to build inner poise and resilience. Continue with Anuloma Viloma. Master and refine alternate nostril breathing to your taste. And if you are like me, by then using breathwork for inner silence has become a favorite in your toolbox to keep it quiet in a noisy world.