A regular breath practice is the key to connecting with your ability to breathe more fully and consciously, which will enable you to live a fuller and calmer life. Slowly building a self practice can see you reap the benefits of a deep diaphragmatic breath in a short amount of time. There are free breath awareness exercises below for beginners and you can buy audios and videos via the Breath Store.
'The Better Breathing Kit' is part of the The Breath Store now available for you to download to help you build a regular practice. 'The Sonic Breath' Series (FREE DOWNLOAD TASTER below) will help you even out your breathing pattern. Simply breathe in on the ascending sound and exhale on the descending sound. This is a 3 minute taster and you can download different ratios via The Breath Store. Learning how to deepen the breath can improve physical, mental & emotional wellbeing. Below are some great exercises for beginners. Discover your Unique Breathing Pattern and practice some simple breath exercises to establish a healthy diaphragmatic breath.
To improve our breathing, we need first to become aware of how we breathe. Although we all share the same air, the way we choose to use it is completely individual. Some of us are deep abdominal breathers, some upper chest breathers, others shallow and some breath holders. We all have different breathing patterns due to physical or emotional restrictions within the respiratory system.
How to find out what type of breath pattern you have and learn how this affects how you feel?
It’s simple! Although we all have a completely individual breathing pattern we normally fall into one of two categories. Make sure you are sitting comfortable in a semi-supine position allow the spine and head to be supported with cushions or pillows. Place one hand on the lower belly (a couple of inches below the belly button) and the other on the upper chest (just below the collar bone). Breathe as you normally would. Notice which part of the body is moving the most. Take another inhalation and exhalation to be sure. Breathe until you notice your unique breathing pattern. Be curious. If the upper chests moves more than the belly and you notice this is where you feel the breath starts this can means you are an upper chest breather. You may notice that the abdomen moves more fluidly and is more predominant than the upper chest. If this is so, this is indicative of you bring a belly breather. Also, take note whether you are breathing through the nose or mouth, or both. Healthy breathing should be practiced through the nose with all parts of the respiratory system moving freely.
How to improve your breathing? Most of us tend to fall into the upper chest breather category and those of us who are belly breathers are rarely breathing deeply enough into the abdominal area so here’s a great way to connect with a healthy, deep belly breath.
Learning to breathe deeply into the abdominal should be the first step to learning how to improve your breathing pattern. This can be a great exercise to practice and strengthen the primary respiratory muscles namely the diaphragm and the deep abdominal muscles.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This insures that the diaphragm is helping to pull air into the lower base of the lungs. This can take some practice so just think. “Breathing in. My belly expands softly”. keep practicing with awareness and you should notice an improvement within a few minutes of focussed practice. Sometimes, when we have really restrictive breathing patterns and we find breathing into our bellies challenging, it’s best to work with a Breathing Coach or Breathing Therapist to help you free up this tension, sometimes hel around the diaphragm.
Connection with the breath – the foundation of all breath-work
Here are a few breathing techniques which will help you develop a conscious breath. The first is the foundation to healthy breathing on a physiological level and those following will help you feel energised, calm and centred.
Mindful Breathing – the foundation of healthy breathing.
- Find a quiet place and sit either on the floor or on a chair with support for the back.
- Your spine and head should be upright, not rigid but the spine should be tall and the shoulders relaxed. Poor posture affects your breathing. Good posture will help your body be able to breathe more freely. Allow the hips to act as the base for this is where the body needs to fill with breath first. Allow the spine to lengthen and feel free. The chin should be parallel to the thighs and jaw relaxed. Have a little space between the bottom and top jaw.
- Always allow the breath to enter and leave as it so wishes. Never force your breath. It should be able to enter and leave the body in a smooth and fluid fashion.
- As you inhale, direct the breath to the belly, as if you were filling the space between your hips with air. Place both hands on the hips to make some contact here. Take a few breaths here until you have established connection.
- Once the belly expands, bring your awareness to the front and back ribs. Begin filling this part of the body with your breath. Take a few breaths here.
- Then bring the breath all the way up into the upper ribs and collarbone area. Make sure the breath still starts from the lower belly.
- Pause for a moment between breaths, making sure not to tense up. Feel the sensations that arise when your body is full of breath.
- Then, as you exhale, allow the expansion in your upper chest to release (stage 3), followed by your middle ribs (stage 2), and finally by drawing the navel into the spine (stage 1).
- The goal is to both slow the breath and lengthen both inhales and exhales improving the body’s internal rhythm.
Breath exercises to make you feel calm and energised.
There are thousands of different breathing exercises and breath works available to us today and breathing is one of the mankind earliest forms of self healing. There are exercises to help us feel energised, to help us feel calm and relaxed and others to help boost circulation.
Puffer Fish Breathing - For Relaxation
This is from a much loved breathing book called ‘Perfect Breathing’ by Al Lee and Don Campbell. This is a great breath work to help induce feelings of calm. It’s helped people overcome panic attacks and relaxed those who are stressed. Make sure you have practiced deep belly breathing above before starting this breath work:
1. Begin with an exhale and then slowly fill your lungs from the bottom to the top (using the technique above in Mindful Breathing)
2. Purse your lips as you exhale through the mouth, letting your cheeks inflate. Exhale for a count of 10 (repeating in your mind 1 – one thousand, 2 – two thousand and so on)
3. Begin again with a slow deep inhale through the nose and then exhale through the mouth as in step 2.
4. Repeat between 3 – 5 minutes or until you are feeling calm. This is great for anyone suffering from anxiety or mild panic attacks.
By pursing your lips and inflating your cheeks you create pressure on the vagus nerve in the back of your throat, which controls many of anxiety’s telltale symptoms such as sweating, racing heart, and nausea. By focusing on the count you help keep your mind off of anxious and fearful thoughts.
Breath of Fire. For Energy
This ‘breath of fire’ exercise is the foundation of Kundalini yoga practise and Transformational Breathing. Some say like it’s the single shot espresso of breathwork for it has energising benefits. It’s great for boosting the circulation, detoxifying the body and helps balance the nervous system.
Contraindications: do not practice the breathwork if pregnant or you are menstruating and have pmt cramps
Sit comfortably and allow the spine to be tall, shoulders relaxed and face soft.
- This breath is in through the nose out through the nose.
- As you breathe in you want the belly to rise like a balloon
- The exhale is really active and has I good whoosh sound to it and the belly should draw back to the spine
- The rhythm is similar to a steam train gaining speed with a continuous flow to the breath.
- Start with 1 breath per second and continue for 10 breaths. Rest and then repeat.
- The effort and emphasis should always be on the exhalation and allow the inhale to arrive naturally after the exhale.
You can also bring the arms into play to really boost the energies in the system. Raise the arms up over the head. Stretch the fingers to the sky and on the exhalation bring the elbows into the ribcage with a little gusto. This will really help liven up the whole respiratory system.
- Inhale. Stretch the arms up over head
- Exhale: bring the elbows to the ribs allowing the elbows to liven up the ribs
- Repeat this movement for 10 breaths. Relax and repeat for up to 5 times
- Always seek the advice of a certified breathworker before embarking on a prolonged breath practice.
Here are some quiet spaces to breathe in Nature where the air is the freshest. Even in cities there are plenty of spaces to breathe. Here are some secret breathing spots in London which will be great for a lunch break or weekend practice.
5 a day – Breathing Exercises
All too often, we give ourselves a hundred excuses not to do those things that are inherently good for us. We often have a little voice in our head whispering ‘oh, I haven’t enough time’, ‘I’ll do it later’, ‘tomorrow, definitely tomorrow’, ‘oh I’ll wait until I go to a class’, ‘I know, I’ll book a one to one session next month’. We ALL do this at sometime, if not all the time! Discipline is a practice and it’s only when we kick start a routine and stick by this that we start to see these ‘must do’ exercises become entwined in our daily lives and we start to notice some really positive changes in our lives. We know in our hearts we will feel more energised, freer, clearer and calmer, if we engage in a short self care routine, be it cardio exercise, yoga or breathing, but we often listen to the mind, whispering gentle excuses to us all day long. 'While the mind is winning, the heart begins to weep.'
Inspiration Space's ‘5 a day’ breathing routine is designed for you to ‘check in’ with your breathing as you go about your day. This is perfect if you haven’t time for a full practice but still want to develop a rich awareness and connection to the breath. Simply becoming aware of our breathing can help us take our attention away from the mind and busy (more than often distracting) thoughts and lead us into the body, where calmness always resides.
1. ON RISING: Just before you leap (!) out of bed, place both of your hands on the lower belly (just below the naval) and gently try and encourage the breath here on the inhalation. Breathing in, belly rises. You can imagine a balloon gently inflating on the inhalation and deflating on the exhalation. No effort is needed here, just awareness. Allow the breath to come in through the nose, out through the nose. Just take 10 breaths (this takes less than a minute for most) so you start your day with breath awareness. To add a bit of flavor to this, you can choose an intention for the day, and on inhaling you can say in your mind ‘I breathe in energy’ and on the exhale ‘I let go of anxiety’. Choose whatever you feel you need more/less of for the day.
2. POWER SHOWER: While in the shower (or bath if your mornings allow) place the palms of your hands on either side of the lower ribs, so the little fingers are in line with the lowest rib. Breathe in and you should feel the rib cage expand outwards, in both East and West direction, breathing out you should ‘let go’ allowing the ribcage to naturally fall (the belly should still be rising here on the inhalation). Take 10 to 20 breaths like this and encourage the ribs to expand a little more in each inhalation. You can count in for the count of 5 exhale for 5.
3. AT THE DESK: Sit comfortably in your chair rest your hands on your thighs and allow the spine to be tall (it sometimes helps to take the spine a little away from the support of your chair). To help release tension in the respiratory muscles in the shoulders and upper back: take a deep and slow inhalation through the nose and raise the shoulders to the ears. Exhale and let the shoulders go. Repeat 5-10 times and then rotate the shoulders slowly in a backward direction. Be mindful of how you sit at your desk. Make sure the shoulder blades are drawn down your back, the chest is lifted and allow space between the pelvis and the rib cage. A good posture can help you breathe easier. A regular breathing practice can also improve your posture.
4. ON COMMUTE: Hold your left hand with your right hand with the right thumb applying pressure to the centre of the palm of the left hand. This acupressure point is for the diaphragm and can help us connect with our breathing and release tension. Close the eyes and breathe gently with all the focus on the palm of your hand. Repeat on the other side. Breathe in for a count of 5. Hold for a count of 2. Exhale for 7. This will activate the parasympathetic nervous system and induce feelings of calm.
5. BEFORE BED: If comfortable, lay in bed, on your belly, head to oneside and make sure the jaw is relaxed (allow there to be a small space between the upper and lower teeth). Close the eyes using a diaphragmatic breath, breathe in through the nose for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 3. Exhale through the mouth for a count of 6. Repeat this for 5 to 10 rounds and notice how the body relaxes on the exhalation. On each exhale imagine ‘letting go’ of the day. This should prepare you for a deep sleep.
Checking in with our breathing throughout the day will allow us to improve the quality of our breathing and deepen our awareness, bringing feelings of calm, to the body and mind. The more we check in, the more we become aware, and our body will use it’s own intelligence system to suggest we build a regular practice.
Copyright Aimee Hartley, The Breathing Room, Inspiration Space.
“Remember to breathe. It is after all, the secret of life.”