Entering the body through the nose or mouth, life-giving oxygen is absorbed into the blood through capillaries in the lining of our lungs. The oxygenated blood travels to the heart, the hardworking organ which then pumps the blood through the body. In many movement practices and physio-spiritual modalities, it’s common to visualize the breath traveling a more direct route through the body (often in through the nose and out through the fingers and toes) as a means of moving energy and relaxing tense muscles. This kind of “conscious breathing,” research has shown, can be helpful for symptoms as varied as post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans and pain management in cancer patients. In Jin Shin, we use the practice as a first step toward moving stagnant energy through the body.

Ideally, each and every single one of the twenty-four thousand breaths we take on any given day would be conscious. Fortunately, the benefits of even a very short
session of conscious breathing can add up, as even small changes in our respiratory efficiency will have cumulative body-mind effects. As I tell my clients, better to take three conscious breaths than none at all.

In Jin Shin, we aim for a daily practice of thirty-six breaths. You can perform the breaths while you’re practicing the daily finger holds, taking three conscious breaths per hold for a total of thirty-six. Or opt for nine conscious exhalations four times a day. Though most of my clients do their self-help and their breathing first thing in the morning, before they get out of bed, any small pockets of downtime will do.

Begin by counting each exhalation. Counting helps to focus and quiet the mind. On an exhale, visualize the breath flowing down the front of the body, from the top of the head to the tips of your toes, expelling stagnant energy as it moves.

Allow the pace of your breathing to unfold naturally. Once you have fully exhaled, the inhalation will happen without effort.

On an inhale, the breath travels up the back of the body, all the way from your toes to the top of your head.

If you lose count, you can begin again or simply continue bringing your awareness back to the breath. In time, even your unconscious breathing will automatically become deeper and more rhythmic.

Excerpted from The Art of Jin Shin: The Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips published by Tiller Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

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  • Alexis Brink is the president of Jin Shin Institute in New York City and has been a practitioner of the Art Jin Shin since 1991. She is a licensed massage therapist and interfaith minister and has taught self-help classes and workshops in New York City as well as in different countries for many years. She has taught Jin Shin in hospitals to nurses and to teachers and their students in the public-school system.