Breath awareness: bringing about a state of calm
Fiona Hardie explains why correct breath is a fundamental pillar of health.
Completely underutilised, underrated and ignored, our breath is the one thing that keeps us alive. An untapped resource. Without it we die. Simple as that.
It’s important to understand how we breathe or are supposed to. Simply put, we breathe through our noses. On the inhale, air enters the nostrils, is warmed and travels through the trachea to arrive in the lungs. From there the oxygen is disseminated to the blood, organs, brain and all the cells to keep us functioning with optimal energy and efficiency.
Our breath is meant to be slow and deep. Where we go wrong is that we breathe shallow, too fast and often more through our mouths than our noses. When we do this, the rest of the body doesn’t benefit from the magic of breath.
Pillars of correct breath
- Nose breathing
- The diaphragm
- Slowing the breath down
When stressed we tend to breathe in a shallow manner, not filling our lungs to capacity with oxygen. We breathe unconsciously and automatically, yet it’s also a bodily function which we can control consciously. And in controlling it, we can elicit powerful parasympathetic responses (our rest and digest nervous system which enables the body to function optimally: digestion, sleep, recovery, and most importantly our immune system kicks in), to aid our healing and benefit our physical, psychological and mental well-being.
Each psychological, emotional, and physical state has a breathing pattern of which we aren’t fully cognisant. We are aware, of course, when our breath catches from fright or sadness, but we aren’t aware that this shallower breath often becomes our normal day-to-day breathing. This is where the troubles begin.
The nose is the organ of breath, not the mouth. The mouth is an organ of digestion. Mouth breathing increases the acid levels in the body. When dealing with any chronic health conditions, it’s imperative to keep the acid and alkaline balance stable.
It’s essential to train yourself to nose breathe. The best way to practise is breathe in through the nostrils for five counts and then breathe out through the nostrils for another five counts. Ensure there is no tension in the shoulders and the air fills the lungs and the belly rises.
It shouldn’t even appear as though you are breathing. Just gently in and out. Feel where the breath is going in your body.
The rise of the abdomen is important. The diaphragm is an extremely important player in breath. As we inhale, the tummy rises gently, and the diaphragm expands pressing down on the digestive organs. Through connective tissue (fascia), the diaphragm connects to the lining of the lungs, the heart and the digestive organs. This provides a massage to the heart, lungs and all abdominal organs. This is why breathing is so important in assisting constipation, digestion, and detoxification.
The diaphragm is also a stabiliser of the spine and processes emotions. The correct functioning of this muscle is a critical pillar of your health. Focusing on filling your lungs with air through the nostrils without force is excellent to get the full benefit of the diaphragm. Feel the ribs moving laterally on the inhale.
Slow the breath down
Take it slow. Ideally, you should take four to five breaths a minute. Very often we do far more. A fast rhythm of breath high in the chest is interpreted by the body as a stressful state. So, the goal is to focus on inhaling for five and exhaling for five for a few minutes every hour or so, until you move beyond the fast, shallow breath.
It’s a brilliant technique to utilise before a chemotherapy session, or when faced with any situation whichmay bring on fear and anxiety. Simply having that awareness of your breath calms the nervous system and reduces the release of adrenalin. Consciously slowing your breath down is a powerful way to get the body to self-regulate and effect a state of change in your emotions and mood. This enhances the body’s self-healing mechanisms.
Visit breathworkafrica.co.za for further information.
- Just Breathe by Dan Brule
- Breath by James Nestor
- The Breathing Cure by Patrick G McKeown
Breathwork foundation course guide.
MEET THE EXPERT – Fiona Hardie
Fiona Hardie, based in the Western Cape, is a Pilates instructor, reflexologist and has experience in Bowen therapy and ear acupuncture. She is currently doing a breathwork course through Breathwork Africa.
Header image by Freepik