Remember to Breathe
Questions: Have you not been sleeping well? Do you feel tired? Are you anxious and stressed during these uncertain times of isolation? Are you prone to panic attacks? Is your breath shallow, laboured or in your chest? If you answered yes to any of these, then I am here for you. Long term shallow breathing can have serious adverse effects on your health. I invite you to read more.
Do you feel that you have been through ringer during the Covid-19 lockdown? I certainly did, I will not forget those months in a hurry. Those months were awash in disbelief and horror as I watched the staggering news from around the world and locally. I was caught up in the closing of state borders, driving endless kilometres to get to my home state so that I did not have to self-quarantine for 14 days. The stress of losing my job and home all in one go, the downside of having a career in hospitality management. I was very fortunate and found a great place to live on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, a great location to ride out those days of isolation. After three weeks of not having a routine and embracing unhealthy habits, yes, too many wines, I was beginning to feel rather flat. This was magnified by the unknown — the unknown of when on earth was this global nightmare going to end. There were so many why and how questions. How, why did this happen? When can I visit and hug my elderly mother? When will I be back at work? When will we all be free to travel across borders and see loved ones? I awoke four weeks ago feeling shocking and said this is the day for a change and took action to get myself in a healthy, happy routine.
Firstly alcohol, sugar and caffeine were kicked out the door; they were not welcome. I gladly welcomed nutritious food, daily exercise, positive projects, reading, and the most important of all is I returned to focus on my breath, to notice the changes in my breath throughout the day and night.
Focus on your breathing for a moment. Amazing, isn’t it! Breath is a continuous, rhythmic movement that lasts from the moment of your birth until your death. Take note next time you watch an infant sleeping. Infants breathe using primarily the diaphragm (abdomen); this is the correct way to breathe. Human beings breathe approximately 15 times per minute. The average person has a combination of abdominal and thoracic (chest) breathing. As we grow older, we breathe less fully. Some people use only one-third of their lung capacity.
Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breathe. The diaphragm separates the lungs from the abdomen. When we use our diaphragm, it massages the stomach, liver, intestines and other organs that immediately lay beneath it; it improves the lymphatic drainage from the bottom parts of the lungs. It has a positive effect on cardiac functions and the coronary supply; it grounds us, and it also enhances the oxygenation of blood and circulation throughout our bodies.
Abdominal breathing is quite remarkable, don’t you think!
Poor posture, stress, panic attacks and tight clothing are just a few things that reflect the loss of abdominal breathing. Restricted breathing is known to correlate with chronic anxiety, depression, fatigue, dry mouth and is a precursor for cardiovascular issues. I am not suggesting you try to breathe away these conditions, without professional supervision, managing these conditions on your own is not advisable. However, your breath is a powerful tool in coping with your physical and emotional wellbeing. Notice the quality of your breath the next time you become stressed over a deadline; upset over an argument with a loved one or you are anxious and running late for that all-important meeting. Is your breath short and shallow? Is your breath restricted to the chest? Is it retained?
By only becoming aware of the breath, breathing the correct way will assist in your daily wellbeing.
There are many types of breathwork and traditions, ie. In yoga, the name given to breathing practices is called Pranayama, and there are numerous and varied techniques within the yoga tradition; however, today let’s begin with first learning how to breathe and become aware of our breath.
The breathing cycle consists of four components:
1. Exhalation – the outward movement of the breath
2. Inhalation – the inward movement of the breath
3. Suspension of the breath after exhalation
4. Retention of the breath after inhalation
Breath Awareness/Abdominal Breathing
Although breathing is mainly an unconscious process, conscious control of it can happen at any time. It forms a bridge between the conscious and unconscious areas of the mind. Conscious breathing is through relaxing and being mindful of the breath. You become aware of your breathing without doing anything.
Let's begin the process of breath awareness.
Step 1: Find a quiet space, have at the ready a blanket and a pillow.
Step 2: Lie down in Savasana (on your back), arms by your side, feet slightly apart, the lower back should be relaxed. Place the pillow under your knees if there is discomfort in your lower back. Make sure that you are warm as your body temperature will reduce.
Step 3: Ensure your head and spine are in a straight line. Relax the whole body and stop any physical movement.
Step 4: Observe your natural breath and the quality and contrast between the inhalation and exhalation. Notice the air as it comes through the nostrils. Does it feel effortless or laboured? Only inhale and exhale through your nostrils.
Step 5: Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Bring your awareness to the abdominal region and allow the gentle expansion as you inhale. Now let the area contract and sink inward as you exhale. You will feel your hand move up and down with the breath. There should not be any tension in the abdomen. Do not force the movement of the stomach in any way.
Step 6: Try not to expand the thoracic (chest) or move the shoulders. You will feel the hand move if you are breathing through your chest which you want to avoid. Feel the abdomen expanding and contracting as you inhale and exhale. Repeat to yourself in your mind “I am breathing in, I am breathing out, I am breathing in, and I am breathing out”. If your mind starts to wander, let that thought go and return to the focus on your breath.
Step 7: Remain aware of your breath; breathe slowly and deeply. Continue for as long as your time will allow.
Anybody at any age or stage in their life with any condition can practice breath awareness/abdominal breathing; it can be practised anytime during the day or night.
Remember, the next time you are stressed out, check out your breathing and see how it is moving. I guarantee that abdominal breathing is not present if you feel anxious or overwhelmed.
By practising breath awareness for 5 minutes daily will help you’re breathing pattern and general wellbeing.
Enjoy and remember to Breathe!
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