Ever wonder why when people are stressed they often say things like, “I can’t catch my breath?” Or why when something has a reviving quality they say, “It’s like a breath of fresh air?” Innately, we all know the value of proper breathing, we’ve seen it function in our lives. We’ve all felt how good it feels to stop and take a breath. How it refreshes and relaxes the body and the mind. Yet very few of us are actually taking advantage of the healing properties of proper breathing.
Each day, in our practice, we run into clients who are not breathing deep, even when they come in for massage. But when you’re not taking breath, deeply, into your belly, it makes it difficult to release the tension in both your body and your mind. That’s why today we’d like to focus on getting in touch with your breath.
Breathing as a natural balance
In many cultures breathing is thought to be the essence of being. This rhythmic process of expansion and contraction, is the embodiment of the balance we see in nature — the yin yang of life such as night and day, wake and sleep and ultimately life and death, play out daily within your diaphragm. If — you’re doing it right.
In yoga practice, (where breathing is a major focus) breath is called prana and is seen as universal energy, harnessed to find balance between the mind and body, the conscious and unconscious and the sympathetic-parasympathetic nervous system.
Your breath, quite literally, is your life. It is the only bodily function that is both voluntary and involuntary. But we can consciously use our breath to influence the involuntary or sympathetic nervous system, which regulates many of our basic bodily functions.
Breathe deep: Abdominal breathing
Abdominal breathing (aka diaphragmatic breathing), stimulates a relaxation response within the body that results in reduced tension and an overall feeling of well-being. Located between the chest and abdomen, the diaphragm is a large muscle that, when contracting, is forced downward, causing the abdomen to expand. This expansion causes negative pressure within the chest, forcing air into the lungs and pulling blood into the chest improving its return to the heart and increasing the flow of lymph. The improvement in the flow of blood and lymph increases stamina and immunity and aids in preventing infection.
Getting in touch with your breath
The video below will help you to test where your natural breathing rhythms are currently (shallow chest or abdominal) and as a tool to help you get back in touch with full, proper breathing techniques for increased vitality.
Remember exhalation should be about twice as long as inhalation. The tools shown in the video above are to help you become aware of your breath and to assist in training proper breathing techniques. Once you have developed abdominal breathing and breath awareness and you feel comfortable with your ability, they’ll no longer be necessary.