Just take one breath.
Is your instinct to inhale? Reread the header and pay attention. Does your stomach move when you breathe? Does your rib cage move from the bottom to the top or from the top to the bottom? Does it feel relaxing? Is there an equal in and out to your breath? What is the rhythm like? If you’re irritated about the questions examine your breathing. Reread the heading one more time and try to exhale first.
A patient of mine was running behind for her massage appointment. She hustled in from the car in a flurry of coats and mittens and rushed to get ready. I usually like to leave patients that are late or stressed laying on their stomach in the prone position a little longer; a great trick I picked up from my sister in her work with infants. When i opened the door and began the treatment it was clear that there was still some work to be done on the relaxation front. I asked this lovely woman to just take a breath. I am sure she was solving world problems; pick up drop off logistics for the children, planning a meal and trying to remember if she had logged out of her computer at work. When i asked her to just take a nice breath, her instinct was to take a giant breath in and hold it. I asked if she was going to be alright and we both broke out into laughter as she exhaled, ( Its much easier to get the air in when your laughing). I wanted to play the breathing video for her then and there.
One thing was made very clear to me that day. Most of us have no idea how to breathe.
There are hundreds of books, endless blogs, pages of websites and articles written on the subject. The Franklin method has a 10 week online course that high lights the movement of the body and my lovely friend Theresa the Yoga Teacher always starts with if you can breathe you can do yoga. Movement is the corner stone of the breathe.
There are techniques for heating and increasing the circulation, and other ones that cool it down, slowing the rhythm of the breath there are breathing practices that have you inhale for 4 and exhale for 7. Darrel Wolfe likes the value of 6 seconds in and 7 seconds out, with a pause at the top. Some practices use a pause at the top and the bottom of the cycle while others like transformational breath work eliminates the pause…. where do we even start. I was reminded this week as I reread Exhale An Overview of Breath work by Gunnel Minett that poor breathing leads to ill health, and the reverse is also true. “Breathing is one of the oldest forms of medical practices dating back to prehistoric times and occurring in all cultures”.
In my practice this is actually one of the first things I like to work on is the breath. When we breathe in we stimulate a stress response; the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and when we exhale we activate the rest and digest or Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Activating and releasing creates this beautiful balance that massages the organs, delivers oxygen to the blood pumps the heart; it’s really a beautiful machine. Yet many of us are stuck in the stress response; where shallow breathing, poor digestion and a stiff neck follow.
Here are some of my favorite cues and clues to breathing. Even spending a few moments each day feeling for the movement can shift us from the future to the present moment, and that is truly the gift.
- Let the air come in through your porous cheek bones rather than your nose.
- Feel the air riding on top of the roof of the mouth.
- Let your teeth be wiggly in the socket and feel how the roof of the mouth or the palate can move down and flatten out. ( just like the diaphragm does when we breath in) pay attention to any teeth that restrict the movement
- Let the air touch the back of your throat and follow it down.
- Let the diaphragm move down and flatten out as you breathe in. The diaphragm pulls the lungs so they can expand and compress the organs. As a courtesy the organs move out into the belly and down into the pelvic floor. Don’t try to create this, just see if you can feel it happen? For people having a really hard time with this I usually just have them place their hand on the belly and feel it move.
- Feel the seat bones move apart from each other as you breathe in. The organs move down into the pelvic floor and it moves down and flattens out (just like the diaphragm and the palate). The bones of the pelvis are generally happy to accommodate as we have a movable disc at the front of our pelvis that will allow for the movement. If you have trouble with this place your hands on the seat bones and feel the subtle movement.
- Imagine a flower blooming in the pelvis on the inhale and falling to the floor on the exhale
- As you inhale imagine every single cell in your body expanding.
- Exhale like you were blowing through a straw- this is one of my favorites!
- Spend a few minutes breathing in and out through your heart. How does it feel?
- Take a breath in for 6 seconds, let all 3 diaphragms move down and flatten out. Hold your breath for the count of 10 and see if you can feel how the lungs continue to breathe? Exhale slowly. I love this exercise for coming back into the present moment.