Why pay attention to your breathing?
1. It brings our attention inwards to ourselves.
We must be accepting and kind to ourselves in order to move forward in our lives in a healthy balance.
2. It allows for self discovery.
Only by stopping to listen will we see, feel and hear how our bodies are asking for help.
3. It allows us to slow down and recalibrate.
This gives us an opportunity to reestablish balance and re-energize.
4. It provides a much needed distraction from the outside world.
“Yet breathing is par excellence the bridge between mind and body.” David Peters
Just paying attention to our breath is in itself meditative. With our conscious attention we cross the bridge, the mind-body connection, to our physiology. With attention and intention, we can; 1) reset, recalibrate , or balance our nervous system and 2) we can, change our biochemistry to positively affect our acid-base balance, which is key to so much of our physiologic function. I will elaborate on this in future articles.
So how can you recalibrate?
The simplest way is to slow down. Stop, sit and exhale. Simply exhale slowly and lengthen that exhale a little. Then, allow the in breath to happen naturally. If you can, breathe in and out through your nose, with mouth closed and teeth gently in contact -no clenching. Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth, with its tip gently contacting the front top teeth. This is where your tongue goes when you swallow. It should be the natural resting place for your tongue when you breathe through your nose.
Letting your exhale be a little longer than your inhale, follow your breath this way for one to two minutes. Find a rate of breathing that works for you. Normal restful breathing rate is 8 to 14 breaths per minute. Don’t worry if you can’t slow down to this pace yet. Stay comfortable. Explore only in your comfort range, keeping the focus on a longer exhale than your inhale. You are trying to slow it down just little. Do this 4 to 6 times per day for two minutes. Take note how you feel before and after these breathing pauses. You can go longer if you find this easy to do. If you feel dizzy, light headed, unwell or increasingly anxious during these pauses, just resume your usual breathing pattern. See caution stated below.
The preceding exercise is intended to introduce a simple breath exploration. It assumes the presence of certain normal physiologic functions. If you suffer from any chronic obstructive or restrictive diseases of respiration, cardio-vascular or other ailments and find this exercise difficult or distressing, please discontinue and see a healthcare practitioner for guidance on what you can do to improve your breathing. If you find yourself struggling, tensing or feeling short of breath, even if you have no known disease, do not continue without consulting a healthcare practitioner, who is knowledgeable in breathing rehabilitation. The normal breathing pattern may have been lost due to compensation for chronic illness, stress, poor posture or injury. It can take weeks of breathing re-education combined with physical rehabilitation – and sometimes psychological counseling – to undo old habits and relearn proper breathing patterns.
Lots of repetition is necessary to break old habits and replace them with new ones. Breathing retraining experts recommend giving yourself 6 to 8 weeks of steady practice to achieve improved breathing patterns. Eventually you can learn different breathing exercises, with focus on different aspects. One example is Diaphragm or Belly Breathing (click here to read more about this). There are many ways to approach this mind-body practice for health. Contact me if you wish to explore your breath and learn more.
Below are a couple resources you can look up for further reading. These are written for the lay person and offer lots of information and exercises for healthy breathing and stress relief.
“Breathe, Stretch and Move: Get Rid of Workplace Stress”. by Dinah Bradley and Tania Clifton-Smith an e-book you can download. “Breathing Matters: a New Zealand guide”. Jim Bartley and Tania Clifton Smith, Random House New Zealand 2013
Disclaimer Suggestions made in this publication are no substitute for medical advice. If you have any pain or difficulty performing the described exploration, seek advice from your appropriate health professional.
About the Author Domenic Lopez B.Sc., Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Licensed Massage Therapist, is owner and operator of Healthy Moves, a private practice where massage therapy and movement education help you achieve better living.