The key to easy breathing is understanding how to breathe right. If you are looking for ways to anchor better breathing into your body, it can be helpful to harness the power of your imagination.
Psyche’s native language is metaphor, as we see every time we dream. Pairing breath exercises with simple, easy images can be a valuable assist. Try it out!
To get ahold of deep breathing experientially, consider the three parts of a good breath: abdominal breath, thoracic breath, and clavicular breath. You can also call these belly breath, ribcage breath, and collarbone breath.
Start with observing how these work.
Lie on your back, laying one hand over your belly button and the other hand over your heart. Begin just by observing what your breath does on its own.
Don’t judge yourself, you’re doing great whatever’s happening. But theoretically, good breath starts with the belly inflating, is followed by the chest inflating, and ends with the clavicle, or your collarbone, expanding and rising up a little. When you breathe out, it goes in reverse: first the clavicle drops, then the ribcage deflates, and lastly the belly empties out.
(Not literally of course – the breath goes into the lungs. But correct breathing pushes the diaphragm down into the belly making it pop out, so it seems like we’re filling our bellies up first.)
Now we can isolate the different portions of the breath and pair them with images as follows, to see if this helps us get a nice, yummy full breath going.
The First Image: Balloon Breath
The first image is of a balloon inflating and deflating. Pair this image with the first part of good breathing, belly breath, to get a good, strong abdominal breath going.
Spend a little time picturing a balloon that you enjoy thinking about. Mine is a hot-air balloon with rainbow colors, stitched out of beautiful pastel-colored silk. I like thinking of a gigantic balloon stretching to the limits on the in-breath, as it is nearly bursting at the seams, warm and ready to rise, pulling at the strings that are holding it down… then imagining it landing, collapsing gently back onto the grass and finally fully deflating til it’s lying inert like a used parachute, as I breathe out.
Once you have a balloon in mind, lie down, place both hands on your belly, either side of the navel. Begin to inhale slowly, imagining the breath goes into your belly and at the same time picturing your balloon inflating gently.
Feel the space between your fingers expand slightly as you do so. When your belly/balloon feels full, like it can’t take any more air in, begin to slowly, slowly, slowly exhale, allowing the balloon and your belly to deflate all the way down to nothing.
Take several breaths like this: at least seven of them. Then take a pause and return to your normal breath for a short break before you move onto the next image.
The Second Image: Accordion Breath
The second image to play with goes with the ribcage and involves picturing an accordion. This is for getting a good, strong thoracic breath going.
Again, spend a little time picturing your accordion. What color is it? Mine is a gleaming forest green, with pearl buttons and shiny, enamel-white and black keys. It’s Italian, I think.
Whatever yours is like, imagine how it opens up as air fills it and then folds back together again as the air is pressed out as musical sound. Imagine how it’s the strength of your hands that pulls the accordion apart and gently presses it back into shape.
Lying down, place hands on your rib cage, maybe crossing your hands over to the opposite side to lay comfortably against the side of your chest somewhere. Begin to inhale slowly, imagining the breath is air going into your accordion, as you feel your hands rise and expand apart subtly as you do so.
When your accordion/ribcage feels full, like it can’t take any more air in, begin to slowly, slowly, slowly exhale, allowing the accordion and your entire ribcage to compress. Imagine hearing the musical sound your accordion is making as you fold your chest back in.
Take several breaths like this: at least seven of them. Again take a pause and return to your normal breath for a short break before you move onto the next image.
The Third Image: Boat in the Harbor Breath
The final image to play with goes with the clavicle, or collarbone, and involves picturing a sailboat in a harbor on a beautiful day. This is for getting a good, strong clavicular breath going.
Picture a pretty, nice wooden sailboat, however, it comes to you. Now imagine that this sailboat is anchored in a pleasant harbor of clean blue water on a calm, sunny day. Now picture that the tide beneath your sailboat is gently rising. As water is coming in, your sailboat rises high on that water. Now imagine the tide going out, and see how the sailboat drops low with the lowering water.
Lying down, place fingers gently along your collarbone somewhere, just below your neck. Begin to inhale slowly, imagining the breath is water filling up your harbor as the tide comes in, causing your sailboat to rise gently. When you’ve reached high tide, begin to let your breath out as you picture the tide going out and your sailboat dropping low on the water.
Again do this several times, at least seven full breaths, then return to your normal breath, enjoying any sensations these exercises have brought for you.