“The oscillation of breathing is a perfect mirror of the fluctuations of life. If we are open to this process, life will move us. If we are unable to integrate life’s changes, we begin to resist by restricting our breathing.
When we hold the breath and try to control life or stop changes from happening we are saying we do not want to be moved. In those moments our desire for certainty has become much stronger than our desire to be dynamically alive.
Breathing freely is a courageous act. ~ Donna Farhi
One of the fundamental teachings of yoga is that our breath mirrors our emotional state and by changing our breath we can at a deep level change the way we feel. Not only that but as Donna Farhi’s quote above outlines, our breath is a direct reflection of our relationship to life itself.
When we live in fear, or try to control the world around us, this often manifests in a tightening and gripping in our bodies that limits and restricts our ability to breathe well. Breathing freely is courageous because it signals to ourselves and the world that we are OK with change, that we strong and resilient and able to face whatever comes our way.
In my private sessions I spend some time in each session exploring and working with the breath. I believe that breath is one of the master techniques and an incredibly valuable tool which can be applied and used to great affect from the very first yoga session.
I teach my clients that through conscious and deliberate awareness of their breathing they can soothe (or stimulate) their nervous system, and in turn create a complete physiological and psychological shift in literally a matter of minutes.
Many of my clients come to me with restricted breathing patterns which in turn keep them unconsciously locked in a chronically stressed state. Stress tends to manifest as short, irregular, shallow breathing patterns which are felt predominantly in the chest and neck. This type of breathing creates a vicious cycle, keeping our body in a hyper alert state and imprisoned in the stress response.
Before I teach clients specific breathwork techniques I almost always give them the time and space to observe their natural breathing patterns, that is, the way they normally breathe without making any changes to it. I invite them to get a sense of how and where they are breathing, the pace, texture and relative ease (or not) of their breath. This helps to give me and the client a sense of where they are starting from.
I strongly believe that we can not create change if we are not first aware of what is actually happening. Awareness is the absolute prerequisite for transformation to occur.
Once clients have a sense of their natural breathing patterns we then progress to exploring techniques that offer more healthful ways of breathing.
The following short audio is one of my favourite ways to work with the breath and I teach it and many variations to my clients. There are two parts to the exercise:
- Breath Awareness through Touch
This part of the exercise is designed to get you comfortable and familiar with feeling the breath move into different parts of the body. We are learning to move breath through the body and to get a sense of what that feels like. I find that using the hands gives us a very immediate and tactile form of feedback which can be useful in the early phases of this work.
- The Complete breath (sometimes called the Yogic Breath)
Taking our ability to move breath into the belly, ribcage and upper chest as our starting place we now explore how to integrate these movements of the breath into all three areas during one complete breath cycle.
Some of the benefits of this exercise include:
- Increased energy and vitality as we improve circulation and oxygen-intake to the body
- Strengthened and promotion of proper functioning of the diaphragm which in turn stimulates the relaxation response and reduces
- Reduction in tension and load of the accessory breathing muscles in the neck, shoulders and upper back/chest
- Enhanced focus and clarity as the mind is required to stay present on the technique
The best part about breathwork exercises is that they are incredibly versatile. Breathing requires no special equipment, can be done at any time of the day (or night) and is inconspicuous enough to do in public. This is important because we become what we repeatedly do – thus the more we can integrate these practices as we go about our daily lives, the more we can rely on the power of the breath to soothe, settle and heal at any moment.