We all take breathing for granted but it is a wonderfully powerful tool that we can use to help us modulate our health and mood. Our breathing is our powerhouse and vital for everything we do.
Calmer states mean that we can digest our food better, cope with stressful events and sleep better. All this helps the rest and digest part of our system – the essential part that enables healing. Other techniques can be used to give us energy!
Our breathing habits often interfere with how we cope with a stressful situation. Have you ever gasped with shock or amazement? Have you ever concentrated so much on something so hard, that you have hardly breathed at all? Have you ever rushed and become ‘ out of breath’ or exercised to the point of very fast breathing? What about feeling upset – what happens to your breathing?
Becoming more aware of our breath will help us to manage our life and health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Get in touch with how you are breathing now. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Is the lower hand rising? In an ideal world, we want to feel a rising of the belly as we breathe.
Think of something really exciting that you did, then think of a sadness – did your breath change?
Our mood governs our breathing so we tend to sigh more when we are sad and our breathing rate increases when we are excited. Indeed, when we are anxious and worried, we will probably only breathe using the upper chest. This is not an efficient way to breathe as we are not oxygenating our bodies to the max. Sitting for long periods in front of a computer with slouched posture encourages this form of breathing.
The main breathing muscle is the diaphragm which separates the abdomen from the chest. Its electrical supply comes from the neck. It acts like bellows drawing air in. We therapists have various tools that we use to help you change breath patterns.
Our hands-on approaches to helping to relax the diaphragm and increasing the space in the ribcage are but two. Working on the ribs and back stimulates the intercostal muscles which give the information to the diaphragm. Relaxing effects of massage are another. The face is also important in breathing. The sinuses produce mucus which helps to moisten the air we breathe. Massaging them is always beneficial and the muscles of the face and tongue are linked to the vagus/relaxing/rest and repair nerve.
There are self-help techniques that are easy and fun which are listed below.
We really want to use the amazing diaphragm to its full capacity. Did you know that it is attached not only to the ribcage but also to the lower back bones! Important blood vessels and the eating tube pass through it so it is also involved in the circulation and digestive processes with its pumping and sucking effects.
Start the day with a stretch of the arms overhead. Then place your hands just below your ribcage.
Always begin by breathing out to calm your system.
Take a deep breath in then take longer to breathe out. At the same time, press your fingers in, under the ribs and take another breath keeping the pressure on. As you breathe out for the second time, allow your fingers to press in a little more. Repeat one more time. Then stretch your arms overhead and lean back a little to look at the sky.
Pursed lip breathing is very efficient breathing and helps relaxation.
Breathe in through the nose but then when you breathe out breathe out so slowly through the mouth with pursed lips. It's a bit like blowing a candle but not blowing it out. Your lips will be pursed and only a little air comes out
We breathe in through the nose and use one nostril for about two hours and then the other one takes over.
Alternate nostril breathing helps us relax, lowering stress levels with knock on effects on the cardiovascular system. It will help you get to sleep, reduces anxiety and promotes an overall feeling of wellness. It has been noted that athletes who have used this technique regularly find they have increased endurance.
- Close the left nostril with your finger and breathe in to the right one
- Close that right one with your finger for 3 seconds
- Slowly breathe out through the other left nostril.
- Breathe in through the left nostril.
- Close it with your finger, hold for three seconds
- Breathe out through the right.
- Repeat for a few minutes.
Flaring the nostrils with the fingers one at a time.
Try breathing through each nostril, blocking the other one. If one is more blocked or ‘stuffy’, then this is great technique. Put your finger on your nose to close one nasal passage and put the other fore finger inside the other nostril and move it around in the soft tissues at the base of the nose. Move your finger outwards to gently stretch or flare the nostril. Repeat to the other side. This also helps to engage the diaphragm.
Whoosh Technique for energy:
Use your thumbs to plug your nostrils and breathe in until you can't breathe anymore and you'll feel your whole body begin to breathe. Then take the thumbs away and you'll feel the air whoosh into your body.
Buteyko method of breathing is very different and if you do have breathing difficulties, please research it.
Breathing through your nose is the important thing. You can wear a myotape to keep your mouth closed at night. (It is safe if you need to talk, you can).
You can test to see if your breathing is efficient by sitting and relaxing.
- Breathe in normally and lightly through your nose
- Breathe out and pinch your nose, thus holding your breath counting the seconds until you feel you want to take a breath in - no straining
- Breathe normally
The number of seconds is your 'control pause' . Low numbers indicate health issues. Ideally, 20 seconds at least, should lapse before you want to take a breath. If it is 60 that is fantastic. You are probably an athlete. Masks are used by athletes to increase their 'control pause'. There is a great video on you tube with Patrick McKeown called 'how to breathe wearing a mask'.
Being more aware of your breathing and how it can help you in coping with painful conditions, increasing endurance for sport – the list is endless – helps with overall health and energy levels.
Visit our page on Relaxation and Relaxation Massage for more helpful tips.
DO BE WISE WITH THESE TECHNIQUES - IF YOU HAVE BREATHING PROBLEMS, CHECK WITH YOUR GP, FIRST.
IF YOU FEEL BREATHLESS AFTER DOING ANY OF THE ABOVE EXERCISE, THEN REST AND ASK FOR HELP.
IF YOU COUGH - THAT IS GOOD! THIS WILL HELP YOUR AIRWAYS STAY CLEAR.
THESE ARE SAFE TECHNIQUES BUT ALWAYS BE AWARE OF HOW YOU FEEL AND HOW ANY NEW EXERCISE CAN BE CHALLENGING.
THERAPISTS WHO CAN HELP YOU WITH THESE BREATHING TECHNIQUES