Free Your Breath, Free Your Life: How Conscious Breathing Can Relieve Stress, Increase Vitality, and Help You Live More Fully

Free Your Breath, Free Your Life: How Conscious Breathing Can Relieve Stress, Increase Vitality, and Help You Live More Fully

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by Dennis Lewis
     
 

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This
book will show you how being aware of your breathing can have a profound impact
on your physical and emotional health in a most positive way. Whether you are
interested in stress reduction, easing a chronic breathing problem, or
exploring the more spiritual aspects of breathing practice, this illustrated
guide will provide you with practical,

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Overview

This
book will show you how being aware of your breathing can have a profound impact
on your physical and emotional health in a most positive way. Whether you are
interested in stress reduction, easing a chronic breathing problem, or
exploring the more spiritual aspects of breathing practice, this illustrated
guide will provide you with practical, simple exercises to calm, energize, and
generally enhance your sense of well-being. The author, Dennis Lewis, also
shows how becoming more conscious of your breathing can reveal a lot about your
self-image and help you deal more effectively with difficult emotions and
situations.


Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is by far the most compelling and complete book on breathing I've ever read. It is 'must' reading for everyone who is interested in optimal health."—Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom

"Lewis teaches us how to assess our breathing and provides practical tools to help us learn to breathe better and create a healthier balance in our everyday lives. He makes clear that how we breathe reflects who we are and the manner in which we express ourselves—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This book is a wonderful resource for anyone who wishes to improve his or her health and vitality through the breath."—Len Saputo, M.D., coeditor of Boosting Immunity

"Dennis Lewis has a deep understanding of the central importance of breathing, in both its physical and spiritual dimensions—as the breath of life and the breath of the spirit. This book is a practical, inspiring guide to opening yourself to the larger energies of life through the medium of the breath. Highly recommended!"—John Welwood, author of Toward a Psychology of Awakening

"A delightful and innovative path to the most profound truth, shared by the world's greatest healing traditions: the way through any trauma, stress, illness, or injury is to first put attention on the breath. The reader will not only understand through Dennis's inspired writing, but get to experience through numerous excellent, practical exercises how conscious and authentic breathing is the gateway to enhanced health and vitality."—Meg Jordan, Ph.D., author of The Fitness Instinct and founder and editor of American Fitness

"It is extremely difficult to write well and truly about the healing role of breathing both in our everyday life and on the way to great self-knowledge. Dennis Lewis succeeds through a rare combination of clear-headed, practical thought and spiritual sensitivity."—Jacob Needleman, author of The American Soul

"Dennis Lewis is a colleague, teacher, author, poet, and dedicated student of the breath and breathing. Free Your Breath, Free Your Life is not just a good book—it is a great book. It is required reading for all my students attending the Optimal Breathing School. It should be required reading for everyone."—Michael Grant White, Executive Director, Breathing.com

"This is a truly inspiring and informative book. It is a master breath-worker's book for those who wish to attain breath, and thus self-mastery."—Dr. Joy Manne, author of Soul Therapy, editor of The Healing Breath: A Journal of Breathwork Practice, Psychology, and Spirituality

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780834824126
Publisher:
Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
01/04/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
449,581
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Few
of us in today's stress-filled world breathe in a free, natural, and harmonious
way. Our mostly fast, constricted breathing undermines our physical, emotional,
and spiritual health and well-being, and deprives us, without our even knowing
it, of one of the great joys of living on this earth: the expansive sensation
of a free, easy, boundless breath that engages the whole of ourselves and
connects us with all of life.

Interest
in the breath has been growing rapidly over the past several years. Inspired by
the influx of breath-related teachings from Buddhism, Taoism, and other
traditions, and by recent research that shows the direct relationship existing
between lung function and overall health and longevity, a growing number of
people, physicians included, have recently begun to tout the numerous health,
healing, and fitness benefits of good breathing and to offer us various
breathing exercises to help.

Breathing
exercises, in fact, are becoming a dime a dozen these days. And so are the
various breathing experts and gurus—physicians or otherwise—who would like us
to believe, even though they often contradict one another, that they offer the
final word on correct breathing for health, healing, or spiritual growth. Yet
those of us who are students of the breath, who are actually undertaking a
serious exploration of the breath of life, know in our heart of hearts that
breathing, like living, is both a miracle and a mystery. As Hazrat Inayat Khan
says, "Life's mystery lies in the breath." The manifestations of this
mystery are, indeed, myriad and boundless.

The
question of what constitutes healthy breathing can be a confusing one, with
many different theories and approaches, some of which are so simplistic as to
be virtually useless. Some so-called breathing experts, for example, tell us
that we should breathe only with the diaphragm and that if the chest expands
during inhalation we are breathing incorrectly. In offering us a simple test to
determine whether we are breathing "correctly," for instance, one
well-known breathing expert, who in fact offers a great deal of valuable
information about many aspects of breathing, tells us to put one hand on our
belly and the other on our chest. He then says, "If the hand on your chest
is virtually still, and the hand on your abdomen moves out when you inhale and
moves in when you exhale, then you are breathing correctly".

Though
I am a great proponent of diaphragmatic breathing and have written at length in
my book
The
Tao of Natural Breathing
about
the importance of the movement of the abdomen in the efficient functioning of
the diaphragm, this so-called test for correct breathing is at best not very
helpful and at worst very misleading. As you will see as you work with the
practices in this book, healthy breathing involves the entire body. It is the
capability of both our primary and our secondary breathing muscles to move in a
full, free, and coordinated way

that
enables us to gain the maximum benefit from each breath in accordance with the
needs of the moment. It is the full, free, harmonious movements of all of our
breathing muscles—as well as the many muscles that connect to or influence our
breathing muscles—that, among other benefits, help ensure optimal oxygenation
of our cells, pump the disease-fighting lymph through our lymphatic system and
return venous blood to our lungs and heart, promote the health of our internal
organs, turn on our stressbusting parasympathetic nervous system, and support
the dynamic, overall sensation of ourselves living in the present moment.

The
harmonious movements of our breathing muscles depend in large part on the way
we engage with our everyday lives, since, ultimately, all our muscles and
bodily structures have an impact on our breathing. To sit, stand, move, sense,
think, feel, perceive, act, and vocalize in ways that support healthy
breathing, we need to increase our internal awareness, our ability to
experience the sensations and energies of the body both at rest and in
movement, and to see how abnormal and unnecessary tensions in our mind and body
constrict our breath and our lives at every level. Many of us may find that
taking up such disciplines as qigong (chi kung), yoga, and taiji (t'ai chi) can
be a big help here. We may also find that going to massage therapists,
Feldenkrais or Alexander practitioners, osteopaths, chiropractors, and other
somatic workers can be beneficial, especially for those of us with major
postural or other somatic problems.

There
are, of course,
principles
of
healthy breathing and living. But these principles will manifest in various
ways depending on the specific physical and psychological needs and
circumstances of each individual. When it comes to breathing, one size does not
fit all. As you will see, there is no one set of breathing exercises or
practices that is appropriate for everyone.

Because
of all the confusion and contradictory assertions (and sometimes bad advice)
about breathing and breathing exercises today, even by medical professionals,
what is needed, I believe, is a clear, exploratory understanding of the various
ways that one can work with one's breathing. I am not talking here about an
understanding of brand-name personalities and schools, which come and go, but
rather of the potential ways of engaging one's own intention, intelligence, and
awareness in a serious exploration of the breath.

In
The
Tao of Natural Breathing,
my
first book on breathing, I explored some of the fundamental principles of full,
free natural breathing.
Free
Your Breath, Free Your Life

continues
this exploration with more recent insights and discoveries that have emerged
from my on-going research, from working with others individually and in
workshops, and from my own personal practice.

As
usual, of course, I have discovered little that is new. What I believe I have
done, with the help of experimentation, personal experience, pondering, and
practice, as well as of the people and books listed in Acknowledgments and For
Further Exploration, is found a way to organize some important principles of
and approaches to breathing work that will enable you, the reader, to become
your own student and guide in an ongoing exploration of your own breath. It is
important to remember, however, that work with breath is, thankfully, a work
that is never finished as long as we are still alive.

It
is certainly true that we all need the help of teachers and practitioners who
know and understand more than we do. With regard to breathing in a more natural
and spontaneous way to promote health, healing, or spiritual growth, we may
even need hands-on bodywork or breath therapy to deal with major physical
obstacles or problems. We may also need help from others to work more deeply
and intelligently with our emotions, which, as I discussed in
The
Tao of Natural Breathing,
have
a powerful influence on our breath. But it is also certainly true, I believe,
that unless we can find a deep sustained interest in self-exploration, an
exploration that includes the breath and its relationship to living and
consciousness, we will not get very far no matter how much expert help we get.

Free
Your Breath, Free Your Life
is
organized in several chapters. In Chapter One, "Ways of Working with Your
Breath," I attempt to shed light on the different ways of working with the
breath by discussing what I refer to as the seven basic categories of
self-directed breathing work. Not only do I discuss some of the main principles
underlying each category, but I also offer some simple practices in each
category to show how you can begin to work with your own breathing in a safe,
creative way. These practices, however, are just the beginning. It is my hope
that with the understanding you gain here and in the later sections of the
book, as well as through the resources I list in "For Further
Exploration," you will be able to use the principles discussed in this
section to discover and even create new practices for yourself that are
relevant to your situation.

Chapter
Two, "Opening Up the Breathing Spaces of the Body," builds on the
various approaches discussed in Chapter One to provide a simple, effective
series of practices that you can undertake on a daily basis to help experience
and open the basic breathing spaces of your body. It is through opening these
breathing spaces that you can begin to regain the full expansive power of your
breath. Once you have experimented with these practices you will be able to
modify

them
or add other exercises based on your own individual needs.

Of
course, it is not enough just to do breath-related practices, however helpful
they may be. You also need to have a sense of the bigger picture. Chapter
Three, "The Metaphysical Breath," explores some of the psychological,
metaphorical, and metaphysical dimensions of breathing, especially the impact
of our self-image on our breathing and the relationship of exhalation to
letting go. You will learn how many of the manifestations of your
self-image—including the clothes you wear, the perfumes or aftershaves you
use, the way you work out, and your sense of self-importance or insecurity—all
influence your breathing. You will also learn some simple, powerful practices
for helping you to exhale both physically and psychologically. For if there is
any fundamental secret to discovering our own authentic breath, it has to do
with learning how to exhale fully, to let go of what is no longer necessary.

Chapter
Four, "Going Deeper—Practices and Meditations for Self-Exploration,"
goes deeper into the breath from a meditative standpoint, exploring some
integrated practices that can support your quest for healing, self-knowledge,
and self-transformation. The six practices in this section are: Conscious
Breathing, The Six Healing Exhalations, The Smiling Breath, The Breath of the
Heart, Expanding Time, and The Boundless Breath.



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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"This is by far the most compelling and complete book on breathing I've ever read. It is 'must' reading for everyone who is interested in optimal health."—Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom

"Lewis teaches us how to assess our breathing and provides practical tools to help us learn to breathe better and create a healthier balance in our everyday lives. He makes clear that how we breathe reflects who we are and the manner in which we express ourselves—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This book is a wonderful resource for anyone who wishes to improve his or her health and vitality through the breath."—Len Saputo, M.D., coeditor of Boosting Immunity

"Dennis Lewis has a deep understanding of the central importance of breathing, in both its physical and spiritual dimensions—as the breath of life and the breath of the spirit. This book is a practical, inspiring guide to opening yourself to the larger energies of life through the medium of the breath. Highly recommended!"—John Welwood, author of Toward a Psychology of Awakening

"A delightful and innovative path to the most profound truth, shared by the world's greatest healing traditions: the way through any trauma, stress, illness, or injury is to first put attention on the breath. The reader will not only understand through Dennis's inspired writing, but get to experience through numerous excellent, practical exercises how conscious and authentic breathing is the gateway to enhanced health and vitality."—Meg Jordan, Ph.D., author of The Fitness Instinct and founder and editor of American Fitness

"It is extremely difficult to write well and truly about the healing role of breathing both in our everyday life and on the way to great self-knowledge. Dennis Lewis succeeds through a rare combination of clear-headed, practical thought and spiritual sensitivity."—Jacob Needleman, author of The American Soul

"Dennis Lewis is a colleague, teacher, author, poet, and dedicated student of the breath and breathing. Free Your Breath, Free Your Life is not just a good book—it is a great book. It is required reading for all my students attending the Optimal Breathing School. It should be required reading for everyone."—Michael Grant White, Executive Director, Breathing.com

"This is a truly inspiring and informative book. It is a master breath-worker's book for those who wish to attain breath, and thus self-mastery."—Dr. Joy Manne, author of Soul Therapy, editor of The Healing Breath: A Journal of Breathwork Practice, Psychology, and Spirituality

Read More

Meet the Author

Dennis Lewis is a student, teacher, and practitioner of Taoism and other approaches to healing and self-transformation. He has studied Taoist meditation and qigong with masters Mantak Chia and Bruce Kumar Frantzis, and has studied the Gurdjieff Work and Advaita Vedanta. Since 1993, Lewis has taught classes and workshops in natural breathing, meditation, and qigong in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. He is also the author of The Tao of Natural Breathing and the coeditor, with Jacob Needleman, of Sacred Tradition and Present Need and On the Way to Self Knowledge.

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