Photo by nine koepfer on Unsplash

Tune Into Your Somatic Self: The Three Breaths Exercise

How turning to your breath can work magic on your present state.

How often do you go through the day checking in with your breath? For many of us, this isn’t something we track. However, becoming aware of the quality of our breathing is an important tool to check in on our nervous system’s regulation and gauge where we are at on an activation (red-yellow-green) scale.

When we become aware of our breathing patterns, and what’s happening for us when we are holding our breath or not breathing deeply, we can bring our awareness to the present moment so that we can tend to what’s here for us.

Do we need a break or a breather? What might bring us back to center in this moment? Often, turning to our breath can work magic on our present state. Here is a subversively simple practice to turn to often.

The Three Breaths practice is a simple practice that can be repeated as many times as necessary. It can be particularly useful at transition times (between or in the middle of meetings), prior to challenging conversations, when you’re feeling off-balance, and even at the start or close of the day.

The Three Breaths practice can also be used when you’re feeling good, as a way of deepening the joy or comfort of that moment. It can help our nervous system make room and expand for all of the good and the pleasant moments that we have and encounter (so as to counteract the negativity bias that often takes precedence in our ever-vigilant minds).

This practice can help us pause and accentuate the moments that are positive so that we can celebrate what is here or offer notes of gratitude. Lifting up these types of moments is key to experiencing more of them.

In this practice, breaths are taken in-through-the-nose and out-through-the-mouth. Allowing the out-breath to be slightly longer than the in breath can settle the nervous system even more.

Three Breaths can be done from any position (sitting, standing, lying down). Pairing the practice with a movement such as the coffee press can engage the body in a deeper way.

In a rooted standing posture, let your arms hang freely at your sides. Bring the hands together interlacing the fingers, with the palms facing up and thumbs out. Pull the arms up slowly to 90°while inhaling through the nose. Hold the breath at the top of the inhale for several counts if it’s comfortable. Turn the hands so the palms are facing down, thumbs in, pressing downwards as you exhale. The movement of the arms during the in and out breaths mimic the pull and push of a French coffee press.

The invitation here is to meet yourself in the moment. What is your internal state? What is happening in your body, what do you notice? What do you notice about what you need? Can you deepen with each breath?

If it feels supportive, tap into the three dimensions with each breath:

  • With the length of each breath, lengthen your spine and stand tall. Feel an increased sense of dignity.
  • With the width of each breath, widen your stance and claim your space. Feel an expansive sense of belonging.
  • With the depth of each breath, feel what is in front of you and what is behind you. Feel a greater sense of sufficiency in yourself.

If you’re holding a particular tension in a part of your body, for example, anxiety that may show up as a tightening in the chest, you may want to be still and place your hands gently on the chest, making contact with it. Greet the anxiety, cradle the chest while taking the breaths into that area of tension. This is a loving and compassionate gesture that allows you to be in conversation with the tension.

By returning to our breath, we go back to the breath as a bridge of connection between the mind and body, and in turn, become present with what is here for us.

Turning towards the breath is a way to honor and trust the wisdom held in the body by giving us a pause enough to notice what we are feeling and what our tensions are telling us. Here, we are able to meet whatever is happening in the body with curiosity and compassion, holding it within our field of awareness.

Remember, while the practice is called Three Breaths, you can take as many as you need.