Know what happens when you forget to breathe? I'll let the immortal words of John Cleese from the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch fill you in.
"'E's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!! "
Okay, so I really just wanted an excuse to post that because it cracks me up every time. What I really wanted to talk about was paying attention to our breathing throughout the day. If you are like the majority of people, the only time you notice your breath during a typical day is when your nose is clogged, you have a cough, an asthma attack, or you have a fright that makes you suck in your breath quickly. We take this fundamental of life for granted throughout our life... and that is by and large the way nature intended it. It is a part of our conscious AND subconscious mind. Breath is also the bridge between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Here's a good way to experience all of this: For the next 3 breaths, breathe through your mouth and change your breathing rate to much faster than normal, something like a panting breath. This is a simulation of what happens when your sympathetic nervous system is engaged (such as in a frightening situation) and by doing this you are now using your conscious mind to breathe. Now deliberately for the next 3 breaths slow your inhale and your exhale in an exaggerated fashion. Really draw out the inhale and focus on it completely and then linger over the exhale with the same dedicated awareness. This is an example of how the parasympathetic nervous system works to regulate heart rate and lower blood pressure in response to stress and another example of conscious breath. To complete the experiment just stop consciously controlling your breath and let it flow naturally. Try going back up and rereading the parrot sketch dialog again then come back here:
When you forget about this exercise, you will notice how your subconscious mind returns your breathing rate back to normal and your parasympathetic system has had a chance to heal your body's earlier stressed response. Here's a great article by Leta Koontz-Stuyvesant describing how yoga utilizes breath to calm the body and focus the mind. YogaMovement.com
Spending even a few moments a day consciously savoring our breath can help us lead a more joy-filled and healthier life. And it just might keep us from being an "ex-parrot"!