'It's Settling, It's Calming, It's Science': The Breath

Dec 12, 2017

At UW-Milwaukee, one unusual class being offered in during the spring semester is called “The Art of Being Still” - a course that many of us could use.

The course is being taught by Erin Maris, who owns the E2 fitness facility in Mequon and who teaches a variety of mind-body classes.

But even if you're not a future student of Maris', she wants you to take a brief self-assessment: Have you taken a deep breath today?

"I would say that everybody needs to take a moment to find something that reconnects them to themselves, and the breath is the quickest way there," she says.

Breathing is a 24/7 function that most people don't often think about, but when we breathe consciously or with intention, Maris says, "our body does something miraculous."

"(Breathing) creates a chemical reaction - nitrous oxide - and that goes straight into the brain and it tells the system, 'Hey, everything's ok,'" she explains. "(When) we're not in touch with our breath...we're denying ourselves the nutrition and the circulation that's necessary to keep the organs, the soft tissue, our brain, our entire being...getting its full source of oxygen."

One simple step to follow, Maris says, is to sit up straight.

"When we sit up tall, all of a sudden the diaphragm can move the way it's supposed to and we're able to do a full three-part [dirga breath] and it's settling, and it's calming, and it's science."

A full breath involves the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. When you engage in a three-part breath, you completely fill your lungs with air as if you are breathing into your stomach, ribcage, and upper chest. Then, you exhale completely to reverse the flow," Maris explains.

She also notes that if you take a moment to breathe fully, you are also practicing mindfulness. She says the challenge is not letting daily distractions get in your way.

"There's just that present moment and there's a great calm and peace that I think is something that we're designed to be in."

She adds, "It's that way in any activity, whether you're an athlete or a parent - just pick anything, it's that zen of just being in that moment. Because if we're not in that moment and we're in the past (or the future) by a nanosecond we're missing what's right in front of us."

Erin Maris leads two guided meditations that can be done in a chair in the middle of the work day: