The act of breathing, unless you suffer from specific respiratory problems of course, is something that we do unconsciously and are generally unaware of. Unless diving into water or blowing up balloons for example, we don’t have cause to think about how we breathe from moment to moment, we just do it.
However I would like you to start thinking about it.
I have previously written a piece on Dr Andrew Weils 4,7 and 8 system of meditative breathing, which I swear by, but I would like to address breathing in a more general way.
Most people lead busy and stressful lives often feeling tense and tired, not realizing that they are taking short and shallow breaths, increasing the sense of tiredness thus perpetuating the cycle of stress and fatigue.
A long time ago I was told that my stiff neck and headaches were due to tension in my shoulders partly caused by my being an ‘inefficient shallow-breather’. Having considered myself pretty efficient in most things I tried not be offended and asked for an explanation!
Simply put, quick, short and shallow breaths taken due to habitual bad posture and muscular tension promote tiredness and stress as the body is in a constant state of alertness with no counter balance of relaxation. When we just use the upper part of the chest to breathe, our lungs do not fully expand and contract.
We need to take in big deep and mindful breaths to calm ourselves, take in more oxygen and expel stale carbon monoxide in order for our brains and body to function to full capacity.
Our amazing bodies know we need to do this so remind us with the urge to yawn or sigh!
To become ‘breathe aware’ and to bring a sense of calm to your body when needed, try this simple practice: *
Sitting on an upright chair, neither straining nor slouching (feeling your body is in correct alignment is what you are aiming for) put your hand on your stomach and breathe as normal.
If you don’t feel much movement from your ribs or stomach then the chances are that your shoulders are moving upwards with each breathe in. In order to redress this, keep your hand in the same position and breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach expands outwards instead of upwards and then breathe slowly out through your mouth and feel your stomach melting inwards towards your spine. (It can help to keep an image of a balloon in your head expanding and contracting as you breathe in and out) Feel your lungs taking in air and then expelling it all out.
To avoid a ‘head rush’ or feeling lightheaded just do this a couple of times just to get the hang of it. Just note how it feels and then you can do this anytime you feel stressed or tense.
*Don’t do this exercise if you have any history of breathing problems without checking with your GP first.