Breathing, something we tend to take for granted until it becomes difficult or we experience the healing power of guided breathwork. These days I’m sure most people who have had the most basic introduction to well-being, through being helped to combat stress or within health and fitness classes have experienced the power of conscious breathing. When I was young, in my early twenties, there was very little information available on how to deal with anxiety and stress in a practical way and of course now with the internet there is a wealth of information available. For me back then yoga was the first introduction. I remember in one of my first yoga classes I was so ignorant about breathwork I felt quite panicky as the teacher led us through a yogic type breathing exercise – I think I ended up hyperventilating! I just couldn’t understand what she was doing…
Aside from that I did love the actual yoga asanas and probably through doing them naturally slowed and deepened the breath. I’m sure anyone reading this post has done a little if not extensive breathwork but if not, or if taking a friend through a relaxing breathing exercise it is best to start very simply, by observing the breath. Further down this post is an audio with some simple breathing exercises that are relaxing in themselves, but first some words about why paying attention to our breath is so good for us.
One chief benefit of conscious breathwork is that of inducing a state of relaxation. It does this by switching on the parasympathetic nervous system, this is the “rest and digest, heal and repair” aspect of our nervous system as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system which engages the fight or flight response. The key thing to remember is that these two systems cannot work at the same time. When you switch on the parasympathetic system you switch off fight and flight. It will of course take time for the biological processes that have been set in motion to disperse but at least you are not adding to them, you are now beginning the healing phase and should fairly quickly notice the positive effects. The health benefits of breathwork are many and through regular use you will entrain deeper breathing by default. Our breath is part of the immune system which needs a good supply of oxygen to work optimally. Another little known fact is that of weight loss, where does the fat go when we lose weight? It is breathed out.
Yes really, it all boils down to chemistry, if you don’t believe me look it up! Now this does not mean that if we breathe more we lose weight. But I do wonder if people who struggle to lose weight despite strict diets, simply need to relax and breath more fully to activate a perhaps sluggish metabolism. It is well known that anxiety can cause weight gain just as it can cause unexplained weight loss.
However, as breathing is something to be experienced rather than talked about I have recorded four different ways to use the breath for relaxation and health. The first two methods also target the vagus nerve, this is the longest cranial nerve, beginning at the brain stem and winding down through the body connecting several major organs and systems. Poor vagal tone can affect the heart, breathing, the entire digestive system, speech, auto-immune functions and inflammatory conditions and several other physical processes. This nerve is the subject of several books and articles now as it’s importance has been underestimated when it comes to health and well-being.
The third exercise on the audio is Resonant or Coherent Breathing, this is a method of breathwork that maximises heart rate variability which is needed for good heart health. The final one is simply five minutes of relaxation focussing upon observing our breathing without having to do anything. Under the audio below I have given written instructions. More information about all of the above is in my book on stress and anxiety which should be available soon!
The background music for the breathing exercises has been recorded at the Solfeggio tone of 528Hz. This Solfeggio frequency is that of Love, it is used for healing, to repair DNA and to induce more positive states of mind. I will write about these tones in a future post. In the meantime, look up the Solfeggio tones on youtube if this interests you.
Diaphragmic Breathing or Deep Belly Breathing
- If new to this then try it lying down at first, or simply practice in bed at night for a good nights sleep. Place one hand lightly on the chest and the other on the top of the belly over the diaphragm.
- Focus on the belly and slowly breath in as fully as possible, feel as if you are pulling air right down into the base of the lungs, the belly should rise as you breath in.
- Breathe out slowly, gently pulling the belly back in.
- Allow a natural pause between breaths.
- There should be as little movement in the chest as possible
- You could practice this for 3-5 minutes.
- When the exhale is audible, as when breathing onto a pane of glass to fog it up, the glottis at the back of the tongue, is partially closed. As the glottis is connected to the vagus nerve this form of breathwork stimulates the vagus nerve giving it a better tone.
- Take a deep breath in through the nose.
- Hold the breath for a second or two.
- Breathe out fully with a hah sound.
- Do this for about two minutes.
- This uses 5 full breaths a minute to improve heart rate variability and reduce stress.
- Inhale for a count of five then allow a natural, tiny pause.
- Exhale for five, allow a tiny natural pause.
- Continue for at least three minutes, up to five or six minutes.
- If a count of five is a stretch at first then count in for four and out for four.