Breathing comes naturally, but breathing efficiently takes practice. Once you’ve developed a basic level of competency, everything gets easier – from high performance sports to being creative to resting, and everything in between.
Efficient breathing is also a core basis for reaching profound places in your breathwork sessions.
Your attention will less be drawn to trying to breathe so that your breath can more easily be the gateway to letting go of your mind and breaking through fear – not an easy feat with respiratory restriction constantly pulling your attention back to the ‘physical’.
Not many people spend much time thinking about, let alone practicing their breathing. However, a few drills practiced regularly combined with the awareness of your breathing during your movement practice will yield benefits for a lifetime.
So allow me to take you through an exercise for diaphragmatic breathing, which is fundamental to breath control and efficiency. Place one hand on your chest, the other on your abdomen, just below your sternum, on the solar plexus, or diaphragm area. Use your hands to feel & observe into which parts of your lungs you are breathing. Where is the movement taking place? In the chest? Abdomen? Back? Sides? Everywhere? Where do you feel it the most?
Let’s learn to control where the breathing takes place at a mechanical level. You want to be able to use your diaphragm only (abdomen area) and not your chest (the opposite is easy for everyone), which can be challenging at first.
Start by taking an easy breath in through the nose.
Now breathe OUT through the mouth, contracting your abdominal muscles. As you do, the diaphragm relaxes as your belly pulls IN. Breathe all the way out, until you cannot pull in your belly any further.
Time to breathe in. The common reflex is to inflate your chest and make it big. Resist this. Instead, avoid any voluntary movement from your chest and upper respiratory muscles. Of course, chest breathing is very useful in movement when intensity demands it, but your ultimate goal should be to learn how to dissociate and select various ways of breathing, at will.
Here, focus on your diaphragm and abdomen area.
Now that we have made room for new air, it is time to breathe in! The breathing in we want is that the diaphragm contracts (descends), letting your belly inflate as you inhale fully. It won’t show your six packs abs, but it is essential to learn to breathe in a relaxed manner. When you breathe in and you’re just sitting or standing, you don’t need the superficial layer of your abdominal muscles to contract. If there is a slight motion in your chest, it is the sole result of your deep inhale, not the result of a voluntary use of other muscles besides the key respiratory muscles.
Once you have a sense of the lowering (inhale) and raising (exhale) of your diaphragm, and on different days or situations, start to try some progressions and variations to explore in your breathing practice:
>> Practice rhythm, for instance breathing in and out increasingly fast, or alternate fast inhale and slow exhale, slow inhale and fast exhale etc…without losing your pattern and getting confused, or bringing the chest into your breathing practice.
>> Practice integrating your breathing practice into the daily movement practice or while exercising or simply walking, at varied levels of intensity, until you feel that it becomes an integral part of your movement. For example, with walking, at first it may be controlling the timing of your diaphragmatic breathing – 3 steps INhale, 6 steps EXhale. Or, find the timing which enables you to keep breathing diaphragmatically in the most relaxed way possible.
After a while, you might realise this starts to become less controlled and simply the way you now naturally breathe! Just keep practicing!
Where breathing dis-function is preventing you from developing an fruitful relationship with your breath, personalised attention from an experienced breathwork practitioner can do wonders. Please get in touch OR book into a Perth workshop to experience the gateways that breathwork can provide in your life..