07 Sep, 2017
Breathing is weird. Sure, it’s automatic, but there’s still an ideal way to do it! So, why is it worth checking in with our breath when it comes so…. Naturally? Each breath wasn’t created equal. Effective breathing saturates our bodies with freshly oxygenated cells. These cells then help carry out most of our baseline functions. In a nutshell, Air is everything. That means that with each and every breath you have the potential to optimise the amount your body heals. Cool, huh? It has a cascade effect of influencing your nervous system, and with it, your sleep, energy, mental and physical growth and development. Incidentally, did you know that acupuncture also increases your oxygen saturation? It helps with things like fatigue & recovery, through to anti-aging and a world of things in-between. Another reason why it’s so freakin’ fantastic for your body!
Conscious breath doesn’t come instinctively to everyone. First thing to suss out? Whether you suck at breathing …so to speak.
Some things to consider if if you’re in the habit of holding your breath, shallow breathing, or breathing too hard/fast:
If air is being sucked in in short, forced breath, your diaphragm can become tight and locked up. Sometimes this manifests as musculoskeletal pain, palpitations, or general breathing difficulties. If you’re more on the side of taking shallow breathe or holding your breath then you can feel out of breath easily, or dizzy.
These versions of breathing can sometimes be in response to certain situations (aka: the delights of stress/anxiety), but other times we breathe hard and fast without an active cause because we’re compensating for other bodily processes; whether it be constricted blood vessels from high blood pressure making the heart work harder, through to things like brain-fog where not enough oxygen is reaching your brain.. The list is long, so the TL:DR version is self-prompted adjustments to your breathing to reap endless benefits!
We breathe better when it has a natural rhythm and we’re relaxed. Breathing shouldn’t make a sound, so if you can hear sniffs, coughs or wheezes, start by sorting that out. Acupuncture does wonders for immunity/allergies. Great excuse to try out something new amidst change of season, or if you’ve ever been curious! Or if you’re already a regular who may not have mentioned it to your practitioner -now is the time to start that conversation.
To take the best, most optimised breath of your day doesn’t mean you being asked to think about it 24/7, but we’re simply getting your body in the habit of regular check-ins to reassess where those holding patterns are coming from. There’s more than one way to do it, but a great start is with using three breaths to compare your upper/middle/lower diaphragm:
First: breathe into your abdomen. Make it slow and stick your tum out as far as you can. Breathe out for a count of 4.
Second : your breath will again fill up your abdomen, but as air goes in: expand your ribs out in the process (we’re really stretching out the diaphragm here so it might feels like it sticks, or is tight/uncomfortable. Don’t sweat it. Like any stretching, it feels a little gross and as though you’re getting nowhere until you realise you’re basically already a pretzel). Breathe out for a count of 4.
Third: Start this breath in the belly breath again, let it fill up and out at your ribs, and then expand all the way out and up into your chest. Suck in as much air as you physically can, and then take a last extra big sip of air.
Hold for a pause or two, and slowly release. Some like to count out for 4, or 8.
Paused breath such as with square or box breathing like this, are child’s play. Not only that, they help activate your parasympathetic nervous system (helps you feel calm & relaxed). Sometimes it’ll feel easier, other times it won’t. Turn it into a habit every hour or so, or coincide it with water/tea/bathroom breaks, or when you pass a certain doorway/pot-plant. Either way, encourage a routine. You’ll start to notice times when it feels different based on energy and stress levels. This is good! You’re learning what triggers what. The more the habit sets in, the faster those little pockets of time become moments where you get to actively and effortlessly engage in feeling human again, one breath at a time.
Written by Laelia Douglas-Brown, Acupuncturist - Newtown