I don’t understand how we go through our lives being taught so many things – manners, spelling, brushing our teeth, laundry, riding a bike, driving a car – and yet, rarely does anyone teach us the one thing that is truly keeping us alive: breathing.
Take a moment now to pause and notice your next breath in and your next breath out…. how did that feel? What does it feel like to breathe? Have you ever contemplated that before?
Our bodies can survive, what? A few weeks without food? 5 days without water? How long do you think you could survive without taking a breath? Try it.
Just kidding. Don’t – I don’t have enough insurance to cover the negative consequences of that experiment!
We are lucky that for the most part, the essential act of breathing is carried out by our nervous system, keeping us alive – But, wouldn’t you like to know how to breathe to thrive, rather than just survive?
Well, first it’s important to note that we are ALL born with the ability to breathe optimally. As babies, we naturally breathe to thrive. It is over time, as we grow and mature, that we develop patterns of constricted breathing, such as:
- shallow breathing into the chest
- fast paced breaths
- constant tension in the abdomen, chest, throat and jaw
If those patterns sound like you, don’t worry! Breathing optimally isn’t a matter of learning anything new, but rather, remembering something we were born to do!
- soften your belly, allowing it to relax
- take a deep inhale through your nose, filling your lungs, so your abdomen naturally expands like a big balloon
- exhale completely, through your nose, emptying your lungs, so your abdomen naturally softens
There! You did it. Breathing to thrive means taking deep, belly breaths (also known as diaphragmatic breaths).
Breathing in this way has so many documented benefits – it is said that deep, belly breaths are one of the most powerful self-healing tools at your disposal! Some of the benefits include:
- dispels all of the carbon dioxide and oxygenates the blood – helping to detoxify and nourish all of the cells of your body
- calms the nervous system – 3 deep, belly breaths can activate your parasympathetic nervous system (rest, heal, digest functions)
- lowers / stabilizes blood pressure, improves digestion, strengthens the immune system
- reduces feelings of stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression – extremely important in this fast paced, highly stimulated world that we live in, where it seems like more and more people are suffering from anxiety
So, how do we put this into practice?
Practice is the key word! It is a constant, life practice that requires us to become more aware.
Instead of allowing our breath to be an unconscious act, carried out by our nervous system, we must make a conscious effort to be aware of our breath and practice breathing to thrive.
Be especially vigilant in moments when
- something does not go the way you expected
- you feel stressed, sad, angry, nervous or worried
- you are in a hurry
In moments like these, our ingrained response is to hold our breath, or breathe shallowly – so, become aware of when you start to slip into those constricted patterns, and shift your response by taking a deep, slow, conscious inhale, and a long, steady exhale. Repeat as needed!
The awareness that is cultivated as you practice noticing your breath has its own array of benefits, including:
- drawing your attention in to the present moment (and away from the past which cannot be changed, or the future which you cannot really control)
- creating a stronger sense of grounding by drawing you into the space of your body, increasing your awareness of your connection to the Earth
- enabling you to pause, breathe and ACT, rather than RE-act to the things that happen in your life
- empowering you to speak and act with confidence and clarity
Breathing to thrive can be practised any time, anywhere – be it before bed if you have trouble sleeping, before stepping on stage to give a presentation, during physical activity, after you’ve received unpleasant news… and even, for no reason at all other than it is SO freaking good for you and because it feels so good to be alive!
Breathing – it is a simple act, but one that makes an enormous difference. Your breath is truly one of your greatest allies for achieving optimal health both in body and in mind. Each time I take a deep breath I like to remind myself that I am literally nourishing every cell of my being, from the inside outwards.
If this has peeked your curiosity and you want to go deeper, keep your eyes peeled for our next “Dynamics of Breathing” workshop where, through a series of discussions, meditations and exercises we cover the anatomy of the breath, patterns of constricted breathing, characteristics of optimal breathing and practices you can implement to improve your breath.
Wishing you many deep, conscious breaths today.