The following exercise will give you a feeling for proper breathing and its effect on the body:
Sit comfortably, either on a chair or on a cushion. The spine should be upright but not stiff.
Tension breathing. For a few minutes, breathe with the shoulders raised upward; breathe using the upper chest only; take shallow breaths. Experience how this feels.
Natural breathing. Relax the shoulders by lifting and dropping them a few times, until they just hang. Feel their weight. Keep the mouth closed, the chin tucked gently in, and the eyes closed.
Breathe slowly and deeply, but without any sense of strain. When you inhale, feel your belly draw downward and slightly outward. When you exhale, let the belly relax back up and in. Do this for at least ten minutes, remembering to relax the shoulders, to keep the mouth closed, to notice the rise and fall of the belly. Experience what natural breathing feels like.
As natural breathing becomes more natural for you, you can apply it to your athletic play and your everyday activities. Your breathing will soon be more conscious and timed rhythmically to the force and rhythm of your movements, giving them grace and ease. Ultimately, you will feel that your breath moves your body, freeing you from unnecessary muscular effort. Whenever you notice that you feel tense, just focus your attention on feeling the pleasure of slow, deep, relaxed breathing. Let the shoulders hang. In a few moments, you'll feel the change. Controlling the breath is but one of the ways we can exercise control over emotional reactivity—not by repressing but by transcending.
The Inner Witness
The law of accommodation reminds us that "life develops what it demands." The corollary of that principle says what is not used becomes obsolete. On the physical level, for example, if we don't use a muscle, it atrophies becomes weak It's the same for reactive emotional habit patterns; through non use, we make them obsolete.
Witnessing is a learned skill consisting of recognition and release of old patterns. If we notice anger, we acknowledge it and release it.
It may seem strange, but we can feel good physically in spite of whatever negative thoughts or emotions arise. Negative thoughts don't have to mean negative tension-if are willing to let go of them. That is the essence of witnessing.
Acknowledging an emotional obstruction - "I'm afraid," "I feel angry")—is constructive, even essential for optimal health. But meditating on that obstruction, habitually dramatizing it, creates an unwelcome pattern.
Fear, anger, and sorrow, are part of life. We don't make them go away by wishing it. But we do have the choice of ways we will respond.
We don't have to bring a fearful thought or its corresponding tension to life; we don't have to dramatize it. We may feel afraid, but we don't have to act afraid. We don't have to freeze or scream "Oh MY God!"!" We need not act out the role of someone who is afraid.
It's not easy to refrain from dramatizing a reactive pattern.
But we can learn that it isn't necessary to wait passively for fearful thoughts to go away or "get better," nor is it necessary to wait for emotions to disappear before we learn to act rather than merely to react. All we need to do is change our actions. We can speak positively and act positively, whether we feel like it or not.