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How often do you pause for breath?

May 3, 2011

If you’re constantly stressed, feel like you’re fighting a losing battle or are suffering from low energy, then the chances are that it’s your breathing that’s at fault!

I know, it sounds too simple – and yet most of us simply aren’t getting all the breath we need. It’s been estimated that on average we use only 20% of our lung capacity.  Combined with poor diet and lack of exercise, our poor breathing is the major cause of lack of oxygen in our bodies. When our breathing is too shallow, we don’t get enough oxygen, which leads to feelings of unwellness, lack of energy and negative moods. In fact, you could say that poor breathing creates all the symptoms associated with stress.

Of course, the spiritual teachers of the East have known this since ancient times.  Their practices – from Ayurveda through to Yoga – are focused on correct breathing. And the great news for us in the West is that it’s not difficult to make the switch from poor breathing to great breathing.

Sadly, for the most part, it’s our vanity that causes us to breathe so poorly. As babies, we’re used to taking deep breaths – but as we grow older, we’re taught to reduce our waist lines (and thereby make ourselves more attractive) by “holding in our stomachs”.  Holding in your stomach, though, forces you to breathe solely from your chest. Don’t believe me? Take a look at someone’s who’s stressed – you’ll quickly see that while their chest is rising and falling rapidly, the rest of their body remains locked still. You’ll also notice their agitation levels rise too!

The fastest way to make anyone relax is simply to remind them to breathe! But interestingly, it’s not so much about taking in a deep breath – breathing out properly is just as important.  Most of us find it easier to breathe in rather than breathe out – but when our breathing is unbalanced in this way, we end up with skewed levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide which creates anything and everything from agitation through to depression. And if you’re interested in looking younger (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), good breathing techniques have been proven to improve the complexion and reduce puffiness! 

Some of the ancient yogic practices require students to breath in over eight seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for eight second and then remain with no breath for four seconds before beginning the cycle again. It does require practice – and you might find it easier to begin with to breathe in for four, hold for two, breath out for four and hold again for two.  From there, gradually lengthen the cycle – those who’ve been practicing for some time can easily manage cycles of breath on the 12:8:12:8 scale. 

I have to say that when I initially tried this kind of breath work, I found it incredibly difficult – but it’s worth persevering as the health benefits are enormous and it does get easier with practice.  Give it a go, the great thing is that you’ve absolutely nothing to lose!

Try this for yourself: Place your hand on your solar plexus (just below your rib cage) and make sure that when you breathe in, your hand rises.  When you breathe out, contract your stomach muscles and watch your hand fall back.  Practice breathing this way several times a day – or whenever you’re feeling stressed, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll start to feel better!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011 11:16 am

    Great article, Olivia. Will this technique help runners to improve too? Maybe we’ll need you on the start line at the Chester Marathon in October. Bring your trainers!

  2. May 11, 2011 12:20 pm

    Thank you Simon for that vote of confidence! Be interesting to get a group of like-minded runners together for a “mind focusing session”. Let me know if it sounds like your kind of thing!

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