“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
I don’t think the topic of breathing deeply and consciously can ever be over emphasised until every last person on this earth holds breathing deeply and consciously as part of their every day life. In this blog I will share a couple of my favourite breathing practices that have helped me to gain better capacity for breath and to feel calmer.
I was not a very good breather as a teenager, I spoke very quickly and was notorious for not letting anyone get a word in edge ways. I also remember the long distance runs that I would do in physical education, across the Streatham common, that would always end with me suffering side stitches and gasping like a fish out of water. I simply did not know how to control my breathing. Since then, I have now been practising pranayama (controlled breathing). However at times I still forget to breath mindfully and can realise that my chest hurts because I am either not breathing deeply enough or at times holding my breath. I now try to set aside time to incorporate controlled breathing as part of my self care.
Controlled breathing is important in supporting a sense of calm, wellbeing and for reducing anxiety. Breathing deeply is not a practice that should be isolated just to meditation or yoga. It is something that can be practiced at any time and is beneficial to use throughout the day in order to create a sense of calm and relaxation.
At our respiratory systems core function, automatic breathing requires no focus or attention, it is something that the body just does. However the benefits of controlled breathing have found that in comparison to automatic breathing, the control of ones breath supports the accommodation of positive changes such as the reduction of stress and reaction to emotional stimulus. Over the course of the year I have practiced different types of controlled breathing and have found different practices to have its own unique positive effect on me and has also improved my physical posture.
Conscious Breathing and Posture
When you decide to breath consciously you become more aware of your body, because you think about how your body is working. The bodies mechanics becomes more apparent to you, in the process of preparing to practice because you find a comfortable space and you make yourself ready to practice breathing. As you bring your attention to the in and out breath you notice your expansion and compression and if you are not sitting in the best posture for allowing this breath you notice the discomfort and so can correct it. When you breathe consciously you will notice the heaviness from slouching or the way you may place more emphasis on one side of the body rather than another. That is the basis of conscious breathing and how it supports your posture, its the natural process of when paying attention you notice more.
I was first introduced to Nadi Shodhan at a yoga class, my friend and I found it terribly hilarious and snorted with laughter in a wild attempt to suppress our giggles and surprise. Initially I thought this was something that my yoga teacher had dreamt up, I didn’t think it could possibly be an actual thing that people all around the world practice. However now I swear by it.
To practice Nadi Shodhan; you sit crossed legged on your yoga mat and bringing your hand to your nostrils you breath in and out, whilst covering alternate nostrils with your thumb and ring finger.
The practice is also known as alternate nostril breathing technique and is a breath technique usually practiced at the beginning or end of the yoga session. There are many reported benefits of this practice and for me I felt that it enhanced my lung capacity and provided me with a longer in breath, something I had always struggled with.
I first practiced rapid breathing when I tried out Osho dynamic meditation. I loved it so much because I felt wild and free and trance like. Technically it is meant to be practiced for a certain duration and within the practice of dynamic meditation. However when I feel stressed out I rapid breathe as I find afterwards I am calmed down significantly. To do it you need to clear your nose with some tissue first. Afterwards you breathe chaotically and intensely concentrating on the outbreath as the body takes care of the inbreath, don’t worry about the rhythm or the pattern. Do this for as fast and hard as you can and allow your body to move naturally and build the capacity. It is usually practiced for ten minutes but for a starter I would recommend five because it is easy to become lightheaded and start to see stars.
The two techniques above are very different ways to kick start the process of incorporating controlled breathing into your life. I really recommend the practice and as you expand your capacity you can start exploring new techniques and practicing for longer.