Did you know there are two ways of breathing? No, I didn’t either until I was pulled up by a fellow actor in rehearsals for an amateur production I was in some many moons ago at Chester St theatre.
I was having difficulty getting my breathing right to deliver a somewhat long piece of dialogue and struggling to deliver some of the lines correctly while trying to take a breath at the same time and it was ruining the whole dramatic effect of the scene. This lady came over to me as we were discussing the problem in a tea break and asked if she could help. As I knew her as a trained singer who worked mostly in musical societies I said “Of course, how?”. She placed her hand on my belly said “Breathe in” and as I sucked in a breath she cried out in horror “You’re doing it all wrong!” What! How could I be doing it wrong, I have been breathing well enough to stay alive for quite some time I thought.
“Don’t you see” she said “You are sucking in your belly as you breathe in and pushing it out as you breathe out”. As I looked at her in some amazement, nay incomprehension, she continued “You need your belly to be going out on the in breath, filling up right down to your diaphragm, and then belly in as you push the air out on the out breath.” It all seemed weird to me at first but when I made a conscious effort to reverse my breathing pattern I immediately noticed that I was getting more air in with each breath and had a lot more air available to play with in delivering the troublesome lines.
It was nothing short of amazing. How had I gone so long without noticing this, why hadn’t anyone shown me the difference? Did all my older family members breathe the same way or had they discovered the “better” way and kept it from me? I then consciously worked on adjusting my breathing until it has now become a habit and I don’t have to think about it. In fact I find it difficult to make myself breathe in the alternative way now, it is a real effort to do it like that.
In meditation where the breath is so important it came to me that my belly was like a set of bellows and I am opening the bellows for the in breath. My belly goes out like an expanding set of bellows drawing in pure clean air deep into my lungs. As I breathe out it is like closing the bellows and blowing the old stale air out of my body. The alternative way is as I was doing originally, which is like sucking in shallow breaths.
I have happy memories as a child of being allowed to use the fireside bellows and blow air onto a slow-to-catch fire in the lounge fireplace. These were the days when we relied on wood fireplaces for heating. It was a maturing signal that I was old enough now to be trusted with such a job. The simile with breathing like bellows then has pleasant connotations for me and one that is easy to remember now. I recommend you seeing your belly movements as a set of bellows in your next meditation and see what it does for you.
Now whether you have happy bellows memories like I do or not, whether you meditate or not, remember to breath the better way, like a bellows.
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