- Daniela Agius
Breathing - back to basics
The first thing that comes to mind when someone says: breathe .... What is it for you?
Blue skies, spaciousness, chest puffing up, belly expanding. These are the images that pop up in my head but depending on the scenario, there could be either a positive or negative sense to it. I know for a fact that breathing is keeping me alive, and it's actually through the longest breath I (and you!) could ever take that life kick-started once I left my mama's womb. Not that I can remember the event, luckily!
The breath has also a kind of bitter sensation to me when I think of the times I had panic attacks, woke up struggling to breathe in the middle of the night or couldn't keep up with my breath in stressful situations. Sounds familiar? Ironically enough it's that breath still that is keeping us alive, fighting for us to find balance in whatever situation we are in.
Somehow this simple act of breathing, happening so autonomously all day long, makes it also complicated. We can find ourselves unable to control the breath in situations where we need to the most. And how can we? The breath flows naturally, it just is and leads its way throughout the day without us having to remind ourselves every second to breathe. We don't just turn up the first day of school and are tutored about breathing and its mechanism. Maybe not! Most of us can recall however moments where we were told to breathe deeper and slower by an adult after a big scare or after exhausting ourselves from running around endlessly at the playground as kids.
So in a way it is simple. We 'lose' our breath. We become aware. We figure out a way to balance our breath again.
In yoga, there is a lot of emphasis on the breath, yes thankfully a lot! We acknowledge it in mediation, by becoming aware of the state of our natural breath, we learn how to control our breath in Pranayama by practicing different breathing techniques and if we are moving in an active yoga type of class like Vinyasa, we are guided to synchronise the movement with the breath.
Off of our mats, the breath is still our anchor, including people who have no relation to any form of modern day yoga whatsoever. We all need it to keep us alive and hopefully well, physically, mentally and emotionally. Especially in situations when we are overwhelmed, stressed, upset, unbalanced, lacking motivation or energy, in need to calm down and relax, the breath can really help us. It's free, it's there readily available, and we can directly access it ourselves.
For this blog, I may be oversimplifying the subject of breathing as there has been a lot of research and studies continuously being done on understanding the relation of our breathing quality with our brain. It is fascinating and a lot of credit goes to those dedicating their time to bring us more insights and help us learn more about our own bodies and minds. My purpose here though is to keep it simple and bring us back to the basics so that it can be easier to relate to no matter the age, backgrounds, lifestyles and experiences we have. After all, we all have this amazing tool we call THE BREATH.
Here is a very simple technique that you can try for yourself without much need of guidance or preparation. You can do this anytime of the day without any special equipment. You already have the tool you need, you have your breath! Surely, you have done this before but this time round and moving forward, be more attentive, more conscious of it.
Breathing Exercise - Equal breathing
Find a comfortable seat, on a chair with support for you back or on the floor with a wall behind you. You can also lie down on your back but try not to fall asleep.
Close your eyes or look down to the tip of your nose. The idea here is to stay focused and avoid distractions from looking here and there in your surrounding. Take a deep and slow in-breath from the nose. Imagine you are sipping air in through the nose rather than sniffing it in. Exhale slowly also through the nose.
As you breathe in and out, keep a mental note of how long the breath is by counting it in your head.
Repeat for 5-10 times and try to keep the same count with every breath that you take.
You can do this as many times throughout the day as you want to. Waiting for the bus or for the kettle to boil? There is your minute of awareness breathing!
Note: In time with practice you will notice the breath extending and the count becoming longer but remember the aim is not to compete with yourself on how much you are able to extend the breath. Listen to how the body responds. If the body is tensing too much or making you feel dizzy, there is your sign to make the counts lesser. If you are lost on the count length, start by counting 4 seconds in and 4 seconds out. Use that to access if it feels better for you to keep this count or increase/decrease. Remember to not let numbers make you compete.
Notice how you feel after practicing equal breathing. It can range from feeling relaxed, grounded and calm but also distracted, frustrated or exhausted. Even if you do it the same way every time, you may not necessarily feel the same way. We are human beings, not pre-programmed to feel, behave and react in a certain way but with practice this can help bring some ease to the nervous system. Explore for yourself and connect to this magical tool of breath that you have. It sits there silently most of the day so in a way it's only fair to acknowledge it for a few minutes each day.
Enjoy your breath!