I attended a fantastic workshop by another Sydney-based coach, Jill Danks, who took us through the importance of breath and how it affects us (more than we give it credit for). Our breath is what we rely on to stay alive, it transports energy around to each and every one of our cells and organs. It determines our state of health, state of mind and therefore our state of wellbeing. Breathing is a learned behaviour, much like our emotional responses. It can be jerked into a different state due to shock or trauma, or we can develop different patterns slowly over time as either useful or bad habits. I wanted to use this post to help you be aware of your style and to start introducing healthier breathing techniques to you.
Improved breathing can actually help us relinquish energy, thoughts and emotions a lot quicker. As a coach, it’s critical I am aware of my client’s breathing patterns to help shift what we are working on, from every level of their being. I also need to be aware of my breath when working with Clients, as often we mimic the style of those around us – I know if I am having slow, considered breaths in a session I am able to hold my client in a calm and open space where they have the freedom to explore issues – rather than a hectic, rushed or confused pace. So let’s see what type of new experience you can have when we look at some techniques for you to change your breath.
I’d always considered myself to be pretty aware of my breath, and how I use it. After this session I didn’t feel confident that I was as conscious as I thought I was in my day to day. I am really aware when I am exercising, working with Clients, meditating, or heading off to sleep, but realised after the session that I am in some habitual breathing patterns that aren’t healthy for me when I sit at my desk and work. Even as I write this now I can notice how I will hold onto my breath as I am typing, until a thought is fully formed and then release it after I’ve typed the words out on screen. Exhaling quite viciously. Even when writing emails I tend to hold my breath for a very, very long time until I hit ‘send’. This type of breath holding pattern I’ve formed is common, and really not beneficial, as I’m not allowing the air to flow in and out evenly and in a relaxed state. It’s more important to exhale fully, as we naturally inhale more easily (again I would often focus on getting the air in, rather than out). So try to see if you can get your inhale and exhale to work in an even sync.
Here are some other common breath patterns:
If you’re holding the belly tight or chest breathing
Relax your belly and allow it to expand on inhale and contract on exhale. This in itself is news to many people – always expand/ inhale and contract/ exhale – test if you’re doing this correctly. Focus on exhale, as the inhale will always look after itself.
If you’re holding the breath (like me!)
Focus on exhaling. A complete exhale! Then allow the inhale to happen naturally.
If you’re rushing to get the next breath
Or always in a hurry to get to the future (yes breath is a symbol for other things going on in your life!) Start to notice or enforce a pause at the end of your exhale (1-2 seconds). In time see if you can feel the stillness and peace in that pause. It will allow you to feel a sense of slowing down and being present.
If you can hear your breath or you’re sucking the air in
This may indicate a fear of never having enough (that you’re really forcing air in for yourself). See if you can try softening your breath, be aware that this change may release emotion – and for this one I suggest doing work with a trained breath worker, coach or therapist. I also believe yoga can help with this too.
Ultimately, it would be great to get to a state of being able to hold free natural breathing most of the time (obviously breath needs to support the activity you’re doing, so you can’t achieve this when running!) I am referring to your day to day. Here are the characteristics of free natural breathing, provided by Donna Farhi in The Breathing Book;
– Oscillation: The whole body oscillates and moves slightly during free breathing. This movement arises effortlessly and not from suppressing movement somewhere else. The oscillation has a way of travelling sequentially through the body from the centre to the periphery.
– Diaphragmatic: The breath arises predominantly through the action of the central diaphragm rather than through the action of the more external, secondary breathing muscles which are higher up in the body.
– Internal origination: The breath arises from within rather than being pulled inside mechanically by using the outer muscles of the body. Instead of breathing we are breathed.
– Multidirectional: The breath expands in all directions, radiating out, just as a full dandelion flower radiates from its core.
– Calm and regular: The breath has a feeling of being and creating calm in the body and mind. Its rhythm is regular most of the time.
– Two /Three /Pause: During quiet respiration it’s normal for your inhalation to be about 2 seconds and your exhalation about three seconds followed by a pause. More simply, you breathe out a little longer than you breathe in.
– Flexible: Just as waves arise in endless variation in the sea, the breath arises with endless variation and adaptability. The breath changes as our thoughts feelings and movement change.
– Effortless: The act of breathing is filled with a sense of ease and relaxation.
Experiment a little…
I’m not suggesting you can change your patterns overnight, it may be like giving up sugar, you need to work on it each and every day, but see what you can achieve in a week and what type of difference it makes for you…
Try just 3 minutes of focused breathing a day, start small and gentle and see what a difference it can make you day and outlook.
If you’re keen to explore how to breath better I’d be happy to take you through some exercises, or look up a breathing workshop in your local area.