Chances are you’ve probably heard terms such as ‘breath work’ and ‘breathing techniques’ thrown around. However, most of you are probably thinking, ‘you breathe in, you breathe out, not much to it really.’ So what is all the hype about and why should you jump on board?
Breathing is something we don’t think about. It’s a habit – a good habit at that, it does keep us alive after all. However, most of us are shallow chest breathers. This means we usually have lower levels of oxygen traveling around our bodies that can lead to lower energy levels. We are designed to breathe deeply into our diaphragms and to get all that yummy oxygen pumping through our blood out to our extremities and into our organs.
Also, it has the wonderful benefit of helping to reduce stress. Ever been worked up in a state and been given the advice to ‘just breathe’? It’s because the breath has such a strong effect on our body. You slow down and deepen your breathing and your body follows suit and calms down your nervous system.
Re-training yourself to breathe into the belly and not the chest can take time. I recommend practicing a breathing technique on a regular basis and slowly increasing the frequency. Over time it will start to become more habitual and you will begin to enjoy the benefits. Many people use breath work as a form of meditation, or at the beginning of their meditation practice, as it helps to calm and focus the mind.
There are countless breathing techniques out there and I encourage you to do a bit of research to find some that you enjoy. I have selected a couple here to help get you started.
Please note it is recommended that people with asthma or any respiratory condition should consult a Doctor before practicing breath work.
- Diaphragm Breathing
There are two ways you can do this. Firstly, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Breathe deeply in through your nose into your diaphragm. You should feel the hand on your belly rise, but the hand on your chest should not rise. Slowly release the breath though the nose and the hand on your belly should fall, the hand on your chest should not.
The second way is to place both hands horizontally either side of your bellybutton so your middle finger tips touch. Breathe in through your nose into your diaphragm. As you do, your fingers should part slightly. Release the breath through your nose and your finger tips should come back into contact.
- Counting Breaths
This is a great one that you can use in public as you don’t need to use hands – so you won’t get any strange looks! It’s also a very quick and effective way of slowing down your breathing if you find yourself particularly anxious or stressed.
Breathe in through your nose to the count of 4 (you can start at three and work your way up to wherever feels comfortable). Hold the breath for the count of 4. Slowly release the breath through the nose for the count of 4. Hold to the count of 4 and repeat. Remember to breathe into your belly.
- Alternate nostril breathing
If you start to take notice, you will realise that when you breathe, one nostril is more open than the other and this switches throughout the day. By practicing this technique you can help to open up both nostrils and therefore help open up both sides of the brain. You can then work from a more centered and balanced place, knowing that both the left and right brain are being engaged at the same time.
In this technique, you block one nostril at a time. You breathe in and switch, always alternating on the out breath.
Start by blocking off the right nostril. Breathe in through the left nostril. Open the right nostril and block the left and breathe out. Breathe in again through the right nostril. Block the right and unblock the left and breathe out. Breathe in through the left nostril. Continue in this pattern.
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When you begin practicing breathing techniques, remember to take it easy. Sometimes people can feel faint and if this happens return to your normal breathing and sit down. It is better to start off small and build up to a longer time. However, you can stay with shorter times and practice more often if you prefer.
Good luck! I would love to hear how you go with these. Again I encourage you to do some research and find techniques that suit you.