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The good news is that breathing consciously is also good for the brain. This is confirmed by recent studies and especially by a famous Zen monk, who advises everyone to walk every day: to learn to meditate, breathe well and be happy.

"I began the practice of breathing to restore calm, to allow the body and consciousness to heal. Breathe in, breathe out, nurture and embrace. Embracing the body and embracing the pain.
(Thich Nhat Hanh)

This is how the famous Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Nahn, with his beautiful words, explains the ultimate intention of conscious breathing: that is, the possibility that each of us possesses of being able to heal truly and profoundly, through an authentic instrument present in our being, namely that of BREATH. The profound wisdom of Master Thich, is made available to the world and comes from the respect and dedication of the ancient awareness of the Buddha acquired through the study of the different discourses of the Sutra and that the Monk has faithfully retranslated and brought back to us today.

In uncertain times in which the Covid19 seems to be the only raison d'être around which the entire world system revolves, there is a need for precious teachings such as those of the Zen Monk, so that our physical and spiritual health can be concretely strengthened before the future challenges that await us, thanks precisely to the meditative technique of conscious breathing

Learning to stop

"Meditation is not an escape but a serene encounter with reality."

Thich Nhat Hanh

In these months of being stuck at home for the Lockdown, we have fully experienced the meaning of 'stopping'. And even if not consciously, almost everyone has started a path of experimentation or rediscovery of the everyday life, choosing or discarding something. And this, in itself, is already a great fortune, as the Zen Monk himself reminds us, because it means: "to begin to make a conscious choice towards a direction, regarding one's own life, starting from the breath, which is undoubtedly the best thing to do at this precise moment".

Stopping is therefore the first step that leads to the careful choice of observing one's breath, without having to change the type of breathing rhythm or channel (there are those who prefer to breathe through the nose, those who prefer to breathe through the mouth, or both, since we are all different!).

Therefore, in order to become an expertise in "conscious breathing", which we should remember from now on brings innumerable physical, mental and spiritual benefits (as we shall see later), you must first of all:

  • stop. Take even 5 minutes a day or in the evening, in which we rest our body, closing our eyes, but without sleeping and try not to think about everyday life. (Imagine that someone from behind unplugs you).

  • choose. When we decide to dedicate time to breathing, even if we don't yet know how to proceed, our brain has somehow already decided. And you will see that the thought will be more and more recurrent during the day, in the various actions that you perform!

  • observe. When you close your eyes and start to listen to your breath, you will have a strange feeling, as if someone has taken you off autopilot. This is the first important sign that you are slowly entering the flow of conscious breathing.

Choosing to breathe consciously

"When you breathe in, you come back to yourself. When you breathe out you release all tension."

Thich Nhat Hanh

Q: But why is it so important to have conscious breathing? And what effects does it have on our brain?

First of all, we know that breathing is the very essence of living, since it accompanies us from the first moment of birth and throughout the rest of our lives. It is the simplest and most banal thing when we think about it. But nothing could be more wrong. In fact, breathing, choosing to do it in the best possible way, is not exactly an easy action and it takes a lot of practice to improve this knowledge, before acquiring a good degree of awareness and getting out of the automatism of daily routine and bad habits. But equally, if we want, we know that intention is the greatest human force, as it is capable of creating the opportunity that leads to real change and fulfils a wish of soul.

Therefore, choosing to breathe well is a challenge of being, which makes us shift our attention to the breath and only to the breath, in the precise moment of attention.

The positive effects of breathing on the brain

A study conducted by the North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, has highlighted the quality of brain activity of some epileptic patients (who had already been fitted with electrodes) first in moments of stress with normal breathing and then with controlled breathing, performing some simple visual exercises (e.g. looking at circles on the monitor). The results were obviously fundamental in the field of Neuroscience research, and the first of its kind, as they directly observed the action of the brain itself, with the help of certain imaging techniques (FMRI and EEG). When the patient took a deep breath, for example, the connections between the various parts of the brain were modified, even entering areas of the brain that were not yet accessible.

Moreover, the experiments showed that the most evident changes concerned the area of the prefrontal cortex, (located in the centre of the forehead of the face), i.e. that of abstract thought and cognitive behaviour.

It is therefore scientifically proven that a good vital process of breathing is synonymous with health and psychophysical well-being. Therefore, if we continuously practice conscious breathing (even for just 10 minutes a day), we will obtain important results both on our health in general and in the long term. The functioning of "good breathing" operates at different levels on our body, covering the following areas:

  • area of the diaphragm: thanks to conscious breathing, the respiratory muscles of the diaphragm become more elastic and it is possible to breathe more deeply. In addition, being able to breathe deeply gives greater mental clarity and concentration in work and various daily activities;

  • cleansing the body of toxins: it is estimated that about 75% of the toxins produced by the body's metabolism are expelled through breathing. Thus, oxygen is inhaled into the lungs and at the same time all the blood cells are renewed;

  • stimulation of the vagus nerve: with conscious breathing, the long cranial nerve that communicates with the main organs, increases parasympathetic activity, and produces a balanced amount of aceticolin, an important neurotransmitter for communication between neurons that regulates memory, mood and attention processes.

Getting the brain to breathe

The benefits that careful breathing has on the brain are innumerable. But as we have seen, understanding the communication channel between mind and breath is not so obvious. Ilchi Lee, author of the best seller "Brain Respiration", has addressed this issue by stressing the importance of the "Philosophy of Peaceology" in correspondence with the methods of breathing the brain and its ability to encode the three different types of breath (physical, energetic and spiritual body).

In short, in his long scientific and spiritual research, it is possible to exercise the brain at the three levels of breath by awakening the various senses, improving it in productivity, creativity and awareness. Ilchi Lee's extraordinary work in advancing the technique of brain breathing as a philosophy of life and consciousness, summarized in the concept of the Super Brain, in which if the brain is well oxygenated, it remains young and productive.

An easy exercise to do:

It is an exercise that mainly serves to start listening to your breath and to get a first feeling of how your brain can breathe in harmony with it:

  1. sit on a chair and close your eyes;

  2. try to breathe in through your nose with your mouth closed and breathe out through your nose;

  3. observe the tempo of your breathing, without changing it, if possible;

  4. And now place a piece of paper under your nose and observe whether your breathing is long and deep or short and fast. Do not force the breathing process if you can. And if it still comes out with a bit of a rhythm, don't worry. It just takes practice to get good results. You will then see over time, that the paper will remain almost motionless because your breathing will be slow and almost imperceptible, as the famous brain philosopher also points out.

Healing with the Breath of "Walking Meditation"

When you start to shift your attention to your conscious breathing, your mind becomes connected to it and so is your whole body. In fact, as we have already noted, when the brain is well oxygenated, thoughts change positively and a growing calmness naturally sets in.

"The practice of walking meditation" is undoubtedly a technique, which once acquired, reflects on every daily action, making us live in presence the amplified experience of the senses, as if it were almost a first time. The extraordinariness and simplicity of meditated walking lies precisely in the fact that it can be practised 'in the open air'; but of course you can also do it at home, sitting or lying down.

The good air of the countryside and the mountains is ideal as it is curative, since all the blood cells are renewed with the substance of haemoglobin, which has the ability to fix and release oxygen in all the cells of the body; but if you can't move, it is also fine to do your meditation walk in a public garden. It only takes a few minutes and a few metres, if you like.

The real power of this practice, as Thich Nhat Nahn reminds us, is the moment you breathe in; concentrating on the loving act of receiving life and embracing all the cells of the body, including the suffering contained within each one. Imagine that your cells, during the breath, embrace the unhealthy ones, in a true moment of peace and love.

The practice of walking meditation also helps to reveal the beauty of life in the details within and around us that are not yet revealed. Covid19 given the rules about social distancing and wearing a mask, so, you can still do your exercises in a quiet place where there is only you.

Here, then, are the highlights of this wonderful practice, which I recommend you try absolutely:

  1. Inhaling and exhaling. As you inhale and then exhale, try to observe your breath without changing the rhythm and instead try to imagine yourself embracing yourself fully and accepting how you really are and feel part of one organism with the earth and others.

  2. Each step is healing. when you start walking with awareness, you feel you are in the right place and at the right time. And this step is important, because it makes us realise within ourselves that we are at peace, even if only for a few seconds. And that you can really heal your consciousness, your body and your mind.

  3. Observe everything around you. when you start to observe for example a tree that you meet on your path, you explore as many details as possible, such as: the branches, leaves and colours, and you see the deep connection that binds the tree with the sun that warms it through its rays or the air that it continuously receives or even the earth that welcomes it, etc.

And this is also another purpose that Thich Nhat Nanh intends to convey to the world: that all living beings interact with each other, in a symphony of infinite beauty, which is life and which includes each one of us.


"Walking Meditation" (English Edition), by Thich Nhat Nanh

"Brain Respiration", by Ilchi Lee.


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