First Habit—Breathe Out Strong
Breathing out strong is our most important habit. It takes a lot of fuel to be the leading actor in our own story and to live the life we dream about. And yet, most people breathe just enough air to not die.
Breathing out is the primary phase of breathing. Breathing in is an autonomic function, meaning it happens whether we are conscious of it or not. Breathing out strong causes us to breathe back in just as powerfully.
Breath is life force. When we breathe shallowly, as most people do, we don’t actually develop enough life force to rise above the adversities that we encounter. When we don’t have enough energy to rise above a situation, fear becomes our chief advisor.
Breathing out strong strengthens, stabilizes and energizes our core, draws our spirit down into its home (just below our navel), fully oxidizes and digests the food we eat, and gives us all the energy we will ever need to face our adversities courageously.
The first time you practice breathing abdominally, you need to be standing up:
- Put your hand just below your navel
- When you breathe out strong, feel your abs contracting inward and upward
- Feel your belly pooching out as you breathe back in. Think Buddha belly
- Use every opportunity to practice breathing out strong
Big breath gives us enough life force to live the life we dream of. Every moment we are breathing out strong, our thinking sharpens. Our attention becomes more focused. Our enhanced mental stamina allows us to wrap our mind around the big picture. When we have enough power to handle all our life circumstances, courage becomes our chief advisor. We become the lead actor in our own movie.
We are breathing in enough life force, enough energy, wisdom and power to truly live our own hero’s journey.
The Mechanics of Breathing Out Strong
As we breathe out strong, our abdominal muscles push the diaphragm upward like a dome, pushing the greatest amount of carbon dioxide out of our bell-shaped lungs.
The diaphragm (the wall-to-wall floor of the lungs) has two muscles, one on either side of our stomach. They attach downward to the vertebra just below our navel. As we breathe back in, those muscles “involuntarily” pull our diaphragm down like a bowl.
Going from a dome to a bowl, turns our diaphragm into a powerful bellows. We draw in a big mixing bowl's worth of air with each breath cycle. This powerfully oxygenates our blood all the way out to our fingertips and toes—and to that other extremity—our brain. This way of breathing gives us the energy and stamina to accomplish anything we commit to.
Most of us have been taught to “take a deep breath,” but that’s just wrong. It’s the main reason so many people are chest breathers. You can tell if you are chest breathing because your collarbones will go up and down with each breath. Check yourself out in the mirror.
Lungs are bell-shaped, small at the top, big at the bottom. Chest breathing only activates the upper three ribs, breathing in a tiny dessert bowl’s worth of air. Worse, chest breathing completely disengages our diaphragm. It’s not even working! Chest breathing is the puniest way we can breathe.
Ironically, a chest breather looks like they are really taking in big breaths, especially when they are in distress. They breathe so hard and struggle so valiantly. But this way of breathing does not take in enough oxygen to handle their rising anxiety demands, much less feeling safe and secure.
A vicious cycle ensues. The higher their stress builds, the less oxygen chest breathing takes in, and the more overwhelming their anxieties become. They are gasping big gulps, yet only taking in tiny amounts of air. Over the last fifty years, every person I ever observed having anxiety attacks or heart attacks was a chest breather.
Chest breathing builds up so much stress that in cardiac ICU centers, almost every patient is a chest breather. And chest breathing was definitely one of the major reasons for them ending up there.
Hara, Our Spirit’s Home
Every moment we are breathing out strong draws our spirit down into its home just below our navel, in front of the fourth lumbar vertebra. Japanese call this place of power “hara.” If we grew up typically Japanese we would have at least fifty different sayings about hara, emphasizing its proper importance in our life.
Breathing out strong draws our spirit down into its home where it controls our chakras, which represent our values, principles and beliefs. Then at every intersection of life, our own values, principles and beliefs shape and control all our thoughts and actions.
Breathing out strong also strengthens—and connects us to—our core, the very core of our being. This makes our core musculature stronger and more stable, giving our low back greater stability. Our balance continually improves, giving us greater stability.
Americans and Europeans have no name for the most important place in our whole body, so, most of us breathe shallowly. When we breathe shallowly, our spirit—which puts out more energy than our physical body can contain—floats up to our head, provoking our brain to take command of our consciousness.
Then at every intersection of life, our brain renegotiates our principles, values and beliefs. As you might imagine, the results are very different too.
All animals have an “animal spirit,” as does our physical body. The life force of our body’s animal spirit changes from moment to moment depending upon how much air we breathe (or don’t breathe). The power of our animal spirit is a dynamic, constantly changing reality. In any moment, we can be as awesome as a grizzly bear or as timid as a mouse—and breath is the factor.
In more advanced breathing: after we have breathed back in, imagine the kidneys filling up full of breath, too. That draws air fully into the back portion of the lungs, adding more volume of air to the in-breath. Voice coaches and opera singers have taught this way of breathing for hundreds of years.
Breathing out strong is the most important habit of our life. It's the first habit of spiritual awareness, mindfulness and courageously living the hero’s journey. Breathe is life. Our lungs not only breathe in life force, they also breathe in higher truths, visions and understandings from the spiritual realms.
When we first commit to breathing out strong, we catch ourselves breathing shallowly about fifteen or twenty times a day. Every time we take a cleansing breath (fast deep breath), we wake up from some low-grade spell, like focusing on worry, anxiety, anger or some other drama.
Then how we handle ourselves breathing out strong, replaces that old program with a more empowered one. That means, we replace fifteen or twenty old dysfunctional programs with more empowered ones every day. By the end of each year, our life force just about doubles, but so does our self-esteem.
I noticed that my energy levels and self-esteem doubled every year for at least ten years, then continues to improve every year. Even a half-hearted attempt at breathing out strong gives impressive results.
It may seem daunting to take control of breathing, but all enlightenment is is being in the moment. Every moment you are breathing out strong wakes you up to the present moment. From there, your heart creates your world in a loving manner. Time just adds it all up.