The Reluctant Achiever takes a look at the benefits of a regular breathing practice
Hmm, breathing. We all know how to do it. Otherwise, well, the outcome is inevitable [shudders]. But how we breathe is the key.
Have you ever found yourself concentrating and realised you simply forgot to breathe? Yep, me too! We take it for granted that our bodies will know what to do. And most of the time, they do - phew!
But breathing can be used for much more than simply keeping us alive.
Diagnosed with asthma at age 4, breathing has been pretty high on my agenda ever since. Allergy tests, regular hospital visits, and the dreaded peak-flow meter. Excluded from sports day in juniors. Leaving friend’s houses after 10 minutes because they had a pet that triggered an attack. I felt hopeless, a failure.
Of course, times have changed. Medications have improved. And we know so much more!
Even so, the one thing that’s helped me beyond measure is learning more about breathing itself. Of course, we can still rely on our bodies to know what to do most of the time. But building a regular breathing practice into your routine is like having an extra set of tools on your toolbelt.
Breathing to improve lung capacity
Improved lung capacity leads to better health overall. Supplying your body with all the oxygen it needs is not only essential for your health now, it helps you recover from injury, prevents respiratory issues and promotes longevity.
Many years ago, I joined an adult choir. This was completely different to the choirs of my school days where you just stood up and sang. They began with a vocal warm-up. Despite being a very keen singer, this was something I’d never come across before.
One of the exercises involved taking a very deep breath and then letting the air out slowly whilst making a hissing sound. Like letting down a bicycle tyre. The first time I tried it my breath ran out before many of the chorists around me, and I knew why. My lung capacity wasn’t as good as theirs. With practice, I improved. I was able to take in more air and let it out slower until my lungs were empty. My singing improved. I was able to hold notes for longer and with more clarity. But I also felt better. My asthma symptoms were lessened, and more in control.
Improving your lung capacity also improves physical performance.
Try doing a few minutes of “belly, chest, out,” breathing before you start to run, swim or cycle. That’s breathing into the belly first, then the chest, and letting it all go. Start with around 10 slow-paced breaths, then 10 at double speed, take a break and start again. I promise you’ll notice a positive difference.
Breathing to reduce stress and anxiety
Have you ever noticed how, when you’re stressed or anxious, breathing becomes shallow? You might even hold your breath.
Your body is agitated. It’s in fight or flight mode. To get grounded, simply to return to the breath. Taking a few deep breaths and letting them out slowly is an easy way to deal with an increased threat load. It’s your way of telling your body that everything is fine.
Here’s one exercise you can try:
Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4, then repeat.
Try concentrating your mind on a point in your body, such as the centre of your forehead or the top of your head while you’re doing this.
Breathing to calm your mind
When your mind is racing, it’s not always easy to settle. Having a busy mind can be challenging in all sorts of ways. It can stop you from concentrating on a task. It can muddy the water when you’re trying to decide on a course of action. Stop you from sleeping, or even distract you from being present for your loved ones.
Breathing to calm your mind takes practice. But it’s an easy form of meditation that can help you reset whenever you feel the need to cut out the noise.
Try long slow breaths, in and out, to calm your mind. Try concentrating on a focal point to help you let go of the thoughts swirling around in your head. Cradling your fingers together in your lap and holding your thumbs point to point is one I like to use.
When your thoughts wander, come back to the breath by concentrating on the tips of your thumbs.
Breathing to increase energy and concentration
Notice sprinters at the start line of a race and you’ll see them using a different type of breathing. They are blowing all the air out of their lungs with force to create a passive inhale. They’ll do this in the race itself too.
Doing some yogic breathing such as ‘Kapalabhati’ focuses your mind and increases your energy levels. It’s great to do in the morning, especially when you have a big day ahead of you. By clearing the stagnant air from your lungs you welcome in energy for the new day.
Here’s how it works:
Take a good breath in through your nose, then force it out quickly through your nose by contracting your belly. Your inhale will be completely passive as you find a medium to fast pace. 30 seconds to a minute of this technique is plenty. Kapalabhati raises my mood too as I can’t help but smile when I’m doing it.
And that’s not all…
From my own experiences, I’ve found that my overall well-being has improved by using breathing techniques. My reliance on medication is at an all-time low, and my stamina and endurance are better than they’ve ever been. There are so many positives to developing a regular breathing practice, and I can’t think of any negatives at all. Plus – it’s free!
So what are you waiting for — just breathe…. ahhhh!
Breathing practices that I love
A little while ago I discovered Breathe with Sandy on YouTube, and I’d love for you to check it out too.
Much love and encouragement,
The Reluctant Achiever
The Reluctant Achiever is written by freelance copywriter, lifelong learner, outdoor lover and personal development junkie, Wendy Ann Jones.
For further information on working with Wendy, please check out www.wendyannjones.com or follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook.