From the moment we’re born until we literally take our last breath, breathing is so basic to our survival that we rarely pay any attention to it. But proper breathing can actually be a powerful healing tool for a fuller, healthier and happier life – so are you doing it right?
The automatic action of breathing occurs without us even thinking about it and yet, if you take a few minutes to focus on your breath, you will most likely see that it is challenged in some way. You are not alone. It is believed that the average person uses 20 to 30 per cent of their lung capacity and exercises two problematic breathing patterns: upper chest breathing and breath holding.
Breath traditions and techniques with a varied emphasis on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits have evolved from many world cultures. Both gross and subtle in action and effect, it is no small wonder that there are so many techniques and practices that aim to open the gateway to effective breathing.
On a purely physical level, our breath delivers oxygen (O2) to the cells of the brain and body for cellular respiration with inhalation and releases carbon dioxide (CO2) through exhalation. The breathing process supports the fires of life: metabolism, detoxification, purification of the glands and organs and calming of the nervous system. However, if you are not breathing properly or to your full capacity the levels of both oxygen and carbon dioxide get out of balance and compromise normal physiological functioning. With stress and stress-related conditions often cited as the leading reason for doctors’ visits, we could all benefit from learning to breathe better.
One breathing technique that aims to optimise mental and physical health is the Buteyko Method, which was developed in the Soviet Union more than 50 years ago by Dr Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, an elite scientist and doctor, who specialised in breath mechanics and advanced diagnostics. Dr Buteyko intensively investigated the physiology and biochemical differences between people in good health and those with chronic health conditions like asthma and cancer, and he discovered that those with a high respiratory tidal volume (5+ litres/minute) had lower levels of disease resistance and more chronic disease.
Although exhaled CO2 is considered a respiratory waste product, he discovered that a certain level of CO2 is required in the body for a number of other essential functions, including optimal oxygen utilisation and pH and hormonal balance. He also discovered that the effects of stress, pain, emotions and illness contribute to an increased heart rate and over- breathing (low-level hyperventilation), which decrease the levels of CO2 to below optimal levels. This action causes CO2- induced vasoconstriction and lowers the blood and oxygen supply to vital organs. In time, “the body becomes conditioned to the lower levels of CO2 and the respiratory mechanism drives us to breathe more than we need to, thus keeping the levels low,” says Buteyko instructor Jac Vidgen, who has been working with the Buteyko Method since 1993. He explains that the key is to regulate the breath so that overbreathing is eliminated. Buteyko Breathing redefines the belief that ‘more is better’ and courses teach people to become fully aware of their over-breathing and learn optimal breathing techniques, so they are fully vital and clear in their body and mind.
Ask any meditator and they will say the breath is the most powerful tool we have to bring us mental clarity and in touch with the present moment. Just close your eyes and breathe slowly through your nose, watch your deep inhalation enter and fill your lungs, so that your belly rounds and exhale slowly and completely. Do this three times with your attention concentrated on this action and you will quickly discover how the mind’s chatter stops, your shoulders relax and you find yourself in the NOW.
Our breath is the primary modulator and stabiliser between the stress we experience (whether actual or perceived) and the nervous system’s response. The effect of the breath on the nervous system influences the way a person thinks, feels and speaks and vice versa. Thus a person experiencing prolonged stress will breathe in a superficial and irregular manner and have more erratic thoughts and emotions than an effective breather.
Swiss-based Transformational Breath practitioner, Daniela Rusconi works with people who wish to free their breath, including yoga practitioners. With a focus on the inhalation into the belly, the breather lies down and breathes a connected breath through the mouth (no pause between inhalation and exhalation) for about 40 minutes. The TB practitioner offers verbal support, applies pressure to strategic areas of the body map to facilitate opening and releasing and holds the space. Transformational breathing is a breath technology that allows us to bypass our conscious reasoning and intellect and deal with unaddressed emotions, stresses, memories and negative belief systems. TB is not to be employed as a normal daily breath, but rather an effective time-limited method to go to the core of your breath, connect to your heart, fill your being with creative energy and life force, and feel deep inner peace.
There is a deep sense of wonder and awe when we approach the spirit within our breath, for it is so remarkably powerful that it can connect or separate us from the core of our being or higher self. Sound healer and composer, Jonathan goldman shares that a “deep, relaxed breath will amplify the electromagnetic energy of your brain and your heart.”
Humans have long sought happiness and feelings of wholeness from outside of themselves, yet our own breath is a beautiful bridge between body, mind and spirit and and gives us an opportunity to live with fuller health, harmony and vitality. By developing intimacy with it, you open the possibility of receiving the full wisdom and consciousness of your own breath and changing your physical, emotional and mental chemistry in ways you hadn’t imagined possible.
Article first published on AsiaSpa