Breathing is an involuntary action. Our bodies will breathe, keeping us alive without us having to consciously think about it. However, taking conscious control of our breathing can have significant benefits.
That’s where breathwork comes in.
When we control our breathing, we control our awareness, our focus and our energy. Breath awareness is self-awareness. When the breath flows fully and freely, our natural creative and healing energies flow fully and freely.
Read on to discover what can affect your breathing, the benefits of conscious breath — and, most importantly, how you can take control.
‘When your state changes, your breathing pattern changes. And it’s a two-way street: when you change your breathing pattern, you change your state! We can use the breath to hack into our nervous system, our brain, our immune system. We can use the breath to choose our state.”Dan Brulé, breathwork pioneer
How we breathe
The reality is that many of us are using less than our full breathing capacity.
We tend to inhale short, shallow breaths and exhale only partially, meaning our subsequent inhale is in turn also marginal. As a result, we are taking in less oxygen and not removing enough carbon dioxide.
What affects our breathing?
Poor posture and alignment can restrict our lungs, particularly if we’re sitting and standing with the shoulders rounded and the back hunched.
Our emotional state also plays a part.
Think about any negative emotions that you might feel: stress, anxiety or anger. Notice how your breathing changes in response to these emotions, either quickening or restricting the breath completely. This shallow or restricted breathing can cause you to feel more stressed, anxious, or angry, amplifying these emotions in a counterproductive way.
The benefits of breathwork
● Brings awareness to the present moment
● Helps you looks inwards, avoiding external distractions
● Improves mental focus and clarity
● Enhances coordination
● Reduces self-destructive behaviour
● Changes energy and perspective
● Can reduce pain
● Invites relaxation and rejuvenation
A breath pattern that gently rises and falls will stimulate the parts of the brain and nervous system responsible for creating a sense of calm. Soothing hormones flow through the body, calming negative thoughts. You begin to relax and breathe more slowly and deeply.
Three breathwork practices to try now
● Counting breath
● Diaphragmatic breathing
● Prolonged exhale
For each breathing technique, unless specified otherwise, try to stay seated. If you can, sit in easy pose (cross legged) or sit upright with your legs out in front of you. You can also sit with your back against a wall or sit upright in a chair if you require support. Try to lengthen through the spine, sit up tall with a straight back.
The benefits: A strength building exercise for the mind, this technique helps to improve concentration and mental strength. It can also improve the ability to not get distracted by thoughts, and can be used as a meditation practice, deepening and slowing down the breath.
How to practise:
o Once sitting upright in a comfortable position, soften the eyelids until they close. Start to breathe in and out through the nose.
o Breathe in and pause, exhale and pause. Perform both the inhale and exhale to a ‘mental’ count of one.
o Breathe in and pause, exhale and pause. Perform both the inhale and exhale to a ‘mental’ count of two.
o Breathe in and pause, exhale and pause. Perform both the inhale and exhale to a ‘mental’ count of three.
o Continue breathing in and out, deepening and lengthening the breath until you reach the count of 10. If you get distracted by thoughts and lose which number you have reached, go back to the one and start again.
The benefits: Designed for deepening the breath, the technique has a sedative effect on the nervous system which relaxes the entire body and leads to quietude and inner harmony. This technique can aid digestion, and is safe to practise if you are pregnant.
How to practise:
o Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, wider than your hips, let the knees drop inwards towards each other.
o Place your right hand on your solar plexus, the other hand can rest on your chest and should remain relatively still throughout the practice.
o Inhale through the nose and as you do so, gently tighten your abdominal muscles just enough to stop the belly from lifting during your inhale.
o As you continue to breathe in your diaphragm will draw your lower ribs up and apart. As you exhale allow the ribs to fall back to their resting position. Don’t force your stomach inwards or actively engage your abdominals, simply allow them to draw back into their starting position.
The benefits: An ideal breathwork technique if you want to support the parasympathetic nervous system, quiet the mind and bring about a state of focus. It can help to reduce insomnia and sleep disturbances, and help those suffering with anxiety.
How to practise:
o You can either practise sitting upright or on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground (try lying on your back if practising before bed).
o Start by breathing normally, breathing in and out through the nose and mentally count the length of your inhalation and exhalation. Over the next few breaths start to match the length of your inhalation and exhalation.
o Once your inhalation and your exhalation are equal, gradually begin to lengthen your exhale. Do this by only a few seconds and gently contract your abdomen to do so. Keep the breath smooth and relaxed.
o Keep lengthening the exhalation until it is up to twice the length of the inhalation. For example, inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8.
o Don’t push too hard beyond your capacity; the exhale only has to be a little longer than the inhale to bring about the calming effect. Finish your practice with 6-8 if you can.
There are many ways in which a David Lloyds Clubs membership can support your physical and mental well-being, from fitness and spa facilities to yoga and meditation classes that include breathwork practice. Discover our 360° approach to wellness.
Words by Carlie Barlow