'To breathe or not to breathe, that is the question'
Breathing; a thing we take for granted. Our bodies automatically inhale and exhale without much thought or consideration roughly 20,000 times a day, and yet we quite often pay it such little attention. Unless you have a breathing condition (or practice yoga), most people would not even think that breathing well could have such a transformative effect on the body.
In a recent training class with Susannah Hoffman, she used the analogy of a boat. The boat sails along your veins depositing fuel (your food) to all areas of your body. As we know, a boat without wind behind its sails does not travel very far, therefore we need to breathe well to ensure that the nutrients and goodness reach all areas of our body.
In yoga, breathing is key. I went to Full Ashtanga Primary Series class with my yoga teacher, Ian Davies, and he made it clear that no matter which poses you could or couldn't find yourself in, never stop focusing on the breathe. To breathe well, is to begin the feel well.
I have asthma so breathing for me has always been a bit of a challenge. On hot summer days with pollen flying around, or in the cold winter with ice on the ground, I can quite often find myself fighting for breath. Therefore, the thought of really focusing on my breath scared me. Allowing myself to be guided to breathe was a terrifying prospect and for my first few yoga classes, I would often discover that I would hold my breath, or take random large gulps of air. But with all things in life, it just takes practice. Slowing but surely I found that I gained control of my breathing. I could feel when it was becoming quick and agitated if I was panicky, and then I could slow it down to relax and soon I was keeping up with the breathing cues with a yoga class. I then found that I could take this control outside of the yoga class and bring it into my everyday life.
I had discovered a book called 'A Life Worth Breathing' by Max Strom, who talks about the importance of our breathe to control our emotions. Our bodies use our autonomic nervous system to regulate our emotions. When we are scared, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in which causes our heart rate to rise and our breath to quicken. It is our stress response, and unfortunately many people these days are living with this stress response in action all day everyday. They do not realise the strain that this is placing on their bodies. But luckily we can control this response with our breathing. If we consciously slow down our breathe, focusing on making the exhale longer than the inhale, we can stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system and therefore brings that body into a calm and restful state. I have witnessed this first hand in my yoga classes, where pupils come in excited, nervous and agitated, and within 5 minutes of the initial pranayama (breath work), they all visibly settle, relax and calm down.
I am not at all suggesting that you need to constantly focus on your breath all day long; that would be exhausting! But in order to make change, it is first important just to be aware. So you may find yourself during the day feeling a little stressed by something, just notice how your breath is during that situation. Maybe you could consciously slow it a little and see how that makes you feel.
I have attached a video for a breathing meditation which allows you to focus on your breath. It is a very simple two minute meditation where you simply focus on the air coming into your body and the air going out. It supports you to quieten the mind by simply focusing on your breath. it may feel odd at first, and you will need a nice quiet space to practice in, but with time, patience and practice you may start to feel the benefits of breathing well.