Take a Breath!
Maybe its the fact that a respiratory virus has upturned all our lives in the last year or maybe its the fact that we're all a bit more stressed and anxious than before but breathwork is getting the attention it deserves!
So what is it?
Breathwork is a practice where we consciously manipulate our breathing to achieve a particular outcome. Funnily enough, breathing is the first principle of Pilates. Joseph Pilates, the founder of the method, considered it uber important - even back in the 1900s, stating that "breathing is the first and last act of life".
Breathing exercises have evolved away from meditation and yoga to become practices you can do whilst seated at your desk (or on your bed if you're #WFH!). You can use the breath to calm down an anxious mind or to innervate a sluggish mind (or really the sympathetic nervous system which activates the body's flight or fight response).
Although we have advanced into the age of technology, the limbic system in our brain still works off genetic memories from our hunter-gatherer days. There, when we see danger (say a sabre tooth tiger when we're out on our morning hunt), we are primed to freeze to evade attention, breathe faster, heart to pump faster - all to get more oxygen into muscles and lose our peripheral vision to focus in on the danger at hand. Nowadays, the sabre tooth tiger takes on different forms; like a pandemic or stress at work but our reaction stays the same. By using our breath to activate the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, we tell the body that no, there's not much to be afraid of so it can start to reverse these unpleasant effects.
On the flip side, fast breathing allows you to get the body hyped up, stimulating the immune response, improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in the short term.
In this article, we'll be chatting mostly about slow breathing.
Why should I practice breathing techniques?
Anxiety be gone! A lot of the physical manifestations of anxiety: a racing heart, faster breathing or holding breath, loss of peripheral vision and inability to focus sound a lot like that response to the sabre tooth tiger. By focussing on a breathing technique for a few minutes/reps, you are literally calming your nerves down as described above.
Improved sleep 😴 Studies have found that ca. 20 minutes of breathwork before bed will result in deeper and more rejuvenating sleep. By practicing slow breathing, your blood pressure start to decrease and the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin is enhanced. All resulting in some perfect Zs.
Improved posture: "Stop slouching" - we've all been on the receiving end of this comment! By practicing deep breathing, you force your lungs to expand across all planes. We usually breathe into our chest, ignoring the sides and the back of the rib cage. Whilst inhaling slow, by focussing on where that breath is going, you open up the rib cage in all directions: alleviating muscle stiffness, especially if you're slouching in front of a laptop all day!
Become more attentive! Slow breathing helps you build a habit that focuses your mind on one thing for a period of time every day. This is in contrast to daily life where a thousand things (physical and digital) scream for our attention.
Drain the lymph: Much like improving posture, the physiological benefits of breathing deeply into the lungs and allowing them to expand in all directions, stimulates lymph drainage. This is essential in flushing out toxins from your body.
Convinced? Here's three tried and tested methods that work!
For all these methods, find a quiet place and time where you won't be disturbed. Start off with 5 reps, increase it as you wish on a daily basis. You can lay on your bed or stay seated. Whatever works!
The 5-5-5 breath:
Lying down or seated. Relax your face.
Inhale through your nose for a count of 5.
Feel the air enter your lungs.
Hold the breath for a count of 5.
Exhale through your mouth for a count of 5.
The 4-7-8 breath:
Lying down or seated. Relax your face. Close your eyes. Tip of your tongue should be pressing against your upper palate.
Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
Push the air into the sides and back of your rib cage.
Hold the breath for a count of 7.
Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8.
Lying down somewhere comfortable. One hand, palm facing down on your chest. Other hand, palm facing down on your belly. Close your eyes.
Inhale through your nose into the hand on your belly for a count of 5 to 8
Exhale through your mouth for a count of 5 to 8
Imagine the breath is a jug of water being poured through your nose, via your chest into your belly. As you inhale, your belly rises as it fills up with water. As you exhale, the water starts to leave the belly up via your lungs out through your mouth. As the water leaves the belly, the belly deflates back towards the ground.
As Sri Lankans, our ancestors would have practiced some of these breathing techniques through their ancient Ayurvedic practices. Its only over the most recent generations, we've lost the ancient healing benefits of proper breathing. At Barressential, we love breathwork and incorporate it into each class - be it Barre, Mat or Reformer Pilates, you'll always hear an instructor saying "remember to breathe!".
So, remember to breathe! Let us know which of these techniques you've tried and which you've loved!
If you'd like to join a class at Barressential to go through guided breathwork, book your spot here