Finding Calm: What We Can Learn From The Water Lily

What is the nature of being calm? Think of the last time you visited the boardwalk at Point Pelee National Park. Did you notice the water lilies growing in the marsh? These beautiful flowers that thrive in the shallow waters are actually rooted in the mud.

The water lily is a metaphor that shows us that it is possible to return to a state of calm in today’s turbulent and uncertain world. This flower grows in the mud but is not of it. Out of the mud emerges a unique and beautiful flower. Just as we are currently living in a chaotic time, we must strive to detach ourselves from this turbulence and find balance and calm again.

Point Pelee water lilies

What steps can we take to return to a state of calm? Making good choices about important matters such as health, relationships and money are paramount to building a strong foundation that contributes to our sense of well being, happiness and an overall feeling of calm. However, even if we make poor choices, which we all do from time to time, there are simple things we can do to return to calmness, and one of the easiest of these is breathing.

When I trained as a massage therapist, we learnt about the importance of diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing or belly breathing. This type of breathing facilitates deep relaxation or calming of the sympathetic nervous system which is conducive to good therapy.

During a massage, a therapist may also synchronize with the client’s breathing and encourage releasing tension with each exhalation. This version of deep breathing involves bringing the breath first into the belly and expanding (or contracting the diaphragm) and then to the ribs and chest. The exhalation takes the opposite path emptying from the chest first, then the ribs, and finally the belly. To help you to remember the sequence think of it as filling and emptying a vessel.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Recently I learnt more about the art of breathing in a class I took with a skillful and inspiring yoga instructor. She taught me to breathe “into my spine” while doing the cat-cow pose. Cat-cow is a gentle flow between two poses that warms the body and brings flexibility to the spine. By focusing on the breath and moving fluidly, I learnt to mobilize one vertebra at a time in a wavelike motion from the tailbone to the head.

The class reinforced the importance of breathing to me and convinced me that with enough practice, I could potentially change my breathing pattern in a lasting way.

Like many people trying to stay fit and healthy while restricted to their home during the pandemic, I started meditation as well as yoga. This took my appreciation for the power of breathing to an even higher level. I came across an interesting technique of modifying the counts of inhalation versus exhalation that can help to achieve a deeper state of calm.

There are two versions of this technique which I explain here:

I’ve named the first one “Breathing to Unwind.” The count is 4-8. To try it, you will need to find a safe, quiet place, and sit or lay down. Then close your eyes and relax your face and body. Inhale deeply through your nose for four slow counts, pause, and then exhale for eight slow counts through your nose again. Repeat this 10 times.

It is best to use this technique two or three times a day when you are anxious or stressed, or when you are finding it difficult to go to sleep.

I call the second technique “Calm Breathing” which can help us to slow down our breathing at any time and is good to use as frequently as possible. The count is 4-4.  Inhale deeply through your nose for four slow counts, pause, and then exhale for four slow counts through your nose again. Aim for a rate of four to six breaths a minute. Most of us breathe twice as fast as this throughout most of our day!

With practice, you can change your breathing pattern to live a calmer and more relaxed life!  When done correctly, the routine of deep breathing can change the pH balance of your blood, boost your digestion, lower your heart rate, lower your cortisol levels (stress hormones), help you fall asleep quicker, and have a better night’s sleep.

Finding your calm through breathing is a powerful practice in today’s world.

More on breathing techniques:

Three Breathing Exercises And Techniques

Breathing Exercises

4–4 Breathing Technique for more Energy – Kundalini Yoga

What is box breathing?

What is Breathwork and Does it Work?

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

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