I’ve been fascinated with the breath lately. It’s pretty amazing that the thing we need most to survive (air) is abundant and free! We walk around in it! Your breath can have a calming effect on your nervous system, and yet constrictive breathing patterns can be agitating to the mind. That’s one of the reasons yoga is so focused on breath. Free your breath and you free your spirit!
Our bodies are such fascinating instruments, and so wonderfully interconnected. Amazing, really. Did you know that tension in your jaw can affect the health of your pelvis? And that chronic tension in your shoulders can be an indication of constrictive breathing habits?
I do breath awareness work in my Yoga for Pelvic Health classes and with many of my psychotherapy clients, simply because the breath influences so much about the body and mind. Read on below for more tips about breathing. And don’t worry! If you’re alive and reading this, then there’s a good change your body is breathing well enough right now! And with compassionate curiosity you can develop awareness of how you could free your breath even more!
Quick Facts about Breath and Breathing
I’ve become really fascinated by the breath and the mechanisms of breathing lately, and I’m especially interested in the ways that the breath affects our nervous systems, and therefore our state of anxiety or relaxation. Here are some facts that might surprise you, or might be enlightening!
- When you’re relaxed your breath is usually slower & deeper, but not forced or strained
- When you’re agitated or afraid, your breath is faster and usually higher in your chest
- Your breath should change depending on the context – if you’re running, you need to be breathing faster and deeper than if you’re sitting and reading this email
- More oxygen is not necessarily a good thing. You need a balance of oxygen to carbon dioxide in order for your body to function well (yes, you need carbon dioxide!) Too much oxygen can be as problematic as not enough, and breathing too hard or too fast all the time can alter your balance of oxygen to carbon dioxide actually causing anxiety & other problematic symptoms
- Your lungs span the area from just below your collar bones to your lower ribs (there are no lungs in your belly/abdomen).
- Think of breathing in through your nose and down into your lower ribs
- The belly moves out as a result of the downward movement of your diaphragm – a muscle that connects to your lower ribs & spine – when you inhale. Forcing the belly out isn’t a good idea and doesn’t help you breathe better.
- Your lower ribs should move when you breathe. When you’re exerting yourself, your upper chest should also move to allow more space for your lungs to fill. Your shoulder muscles generally shouldn’t be used for breathing
- Allowing ribs and belly to move when you breathe provides for a freer breath and a more balanced & content nervous system.
- Tucking your pelvis under (squeezing buttocks in) and holding your belly in wreaks havoc with your breathing and isn’t good for your spine (or your pelvis). Whether sitting or standing, the pelvis should optimally be in a neutral position with a curve at your lower (lumbar) spine
- A “deep” breath doesn’t mean forcing the breath into your belly or taking a big, loud breath. It’s best for the breath to move quietly, freely & deeply into the body at a relatively relaxed rate – depending, of course, on what your body is doing.
- The average number of breaths per minute is 15-20 for adults.
Any of this sound new or contrary to what you learned in yoga class? It’s been an education for me to study the breath more deeply too & I’ve had to relearn some things! It’s also been wonderful to observe how psychotherapy clients and yoga students have benefited from learning more about how their breath works.
Please feel free to leave a comment to this post and let me know what you think…