Tell me how you breathe and I will tell you how you feel
Updated: Jan 2
Part 1 – Breathing & Movement Techniques for a Better Life
Anxiety, uncertainty, disquiet, restlessness, unease… There are as many names for this mental health problem as there are ways to show up in our body. Disconnection is just one way anxiety expresses: “I do not feel interest/connection with family or people I live/work with.” “I have lost control over my thoughts.” “I feel disconnected from what my own body needs or feels: The sensation is there, I just cannot process it and feel it.”
It is so easy (and normal!) to feel that way sometimes. But if this feeling keeps going on or increasing during the weeks or months, you might need to look for professional help. Here, we will only explore self-care, complementary, non-formal-therapy ways to awaken the reception of our own sensations.
Except for specific moments in which we can pinpoint issues in our past or current life, anxiety can be very difficult to explain: we rarely feel we have a “good” reason to suffer this way, and we can even feel ashamed of it. Hence pretending to be okay, not reaching anyone to talk about it or allowing our worries to keep piling up in our own Mount Everest of Things to Fear. We might even forget to breathe!
If you have ever felt like anxiety is constricting you like a serpent, you are not exaggerating. This is because we tend to hold (hard) the breath when we are not feeling well, and then, when the brain sends the signal “we need oxygeeen!” we again inhale too hard. When I tell people we need to learn how to breathe, they say “nope, I don’t. I have done this since I was born!”. But the truth is we haven’t trained to breathe correctly: Most of us think we need to breathe a lot of oxygen in, but only a few realise the huge importance of slowly breathing out the carbon dioxide that oxygen creates inside. The fact that we hold the breath carelessly shows us we must relearn one or two things about breathing.
When the carbon dioxide stays inside our cells and blood for too long, it irritates our lungs, makes us have involuntary spasms, and sends an urgent message to our brain: we are f*cking trouble! The brain is now in Alert mode, which can keep us in the Fight or Flight state, a state in which we can never fully rest. If we cannot rest, we might feel more unease and worried and lost, and the cycle of hell keeps running!
How to Breathe Properly, then? Slow, Low, Soft and Nasal Breathing!
Good question! A short answer is as slow as you can (no jumping breathing), as low as you can (don’t leave it in the chest) and as silently-soft as you can (can you look at your chest/belly and hide the movement?) – all through your nose!
There are several amazing breathing techniques that might improve our lives, but before practising any of those, we need to know how we breathe – if we do not know what is wrong, how would we change it? So, first the thing we need to do is to observe…:
– when we hold the breath
What happens if a stranger talks to you on the bus? Or when there is an unexpected loud noise?, what about when you are having negative thoughts? Chances are, you hold the breath in all those situations. The beauty of being aware we are holding the breath is that we can immediately breathe out as smooth and softly as we can. So that’s it? Yes, you notice you are holding and you exhale once, 10, 50, 1000 times, it doesn’t matter: As my Kundalini teacher says “Learn how to exhale and the inhale will take care of itself”.
– if we are nose or mouth breathers
Long story made short: Mouth Has Not Been Designed For Breathing. Period. When the oxygen comes through the mouth, without our nose’s filter to dose, clear and warm it up, it shocks the lungs preventing them from working properly. If we then exhale also through the mouth, we push too much CO2, too fast out of the body, leaving very little time for the oxygen to travel all those places it has to visit within the body: Including the brain! So, every time you notice you are opening your mouth to breathe, close it and come back to the nose. Again, as many times as is necessary.
*Having said this, I sometimes use conscious mouth breathing (only a few and only for those free of anxiety) to shock and awaken the body if we feel a bit disconnected.
– if you breathe through your nose but too shallow or too loud
As with the mouth, we need to allow time for the exchange to happen, but also to allow the right amount of oxygen the body needs to get in: we need to know what’s the right quantity for our own unique body, instead of bringing just too much in (tip – Nasal breathing can help you filter the quantity too.) With a slower pace of inhalation of oxygen, we can then focus on bringing that oxygen as low as we can (“belly” or diaphragm breathing helps us reach the bottom of the lungs), as soft (without creating tension in the muscles), and as silent as possible (so the brain thinks we are safe and can relax).
– if your inhalation is longer than exhalation or vice versa
It is important to observe this and change it depending on our needs. Do you want to bring Balance? Even/balanced inhalations and exhalations will do: You can start counting to 4 when breathing in, and to 4 when breathing out. Then increase gradually to 6 or 8.
Do you need to relax the body? Exhalations can be longer (double time, for example) than inhalations: You can inhale counting to 4 and exhale counting to 8 (remember, as slow as you can). Do you need to activate the body? A few (not too many) longer inhalations with short, quick exhalations can give us a boost.
I could talk about breathing for loooong, I love it! But let’s leave it here to start practising and feel what we feel for ourselves.
Let me know how it goes!