Breathing with Comfort and Joy

When F. M. Alexander first began sharing his newfound discoveries about human psycho-physical functioning, he traveled around his native Australia and became known as "the Breathing Man." The core of his work was free and full breathing and its relation to overall wellness. Science is now catching up to what Alexander knew in the 1890s.

NPR recently did a helpful piece on the stress-relieving aspects of healthy breathing. Read and/or listen to it here.

The Alexander Technique remains one of the best ways to understand the anatomy and physiology of your own breathing system, and to begin to reverse some of the unconscious habits that develop in everyone over time, and which  interfere with healthy breathing. Similarly, a Somatic Release session often restores full breathing function, as clients begin to let go of restrictive muscular tension in the thorax and throughout the body.

I recently had an SR session with someone recovering from a day-long outpatient surgery. He told me that one of his post-op instructions was to take a few deep breaths every hour or so for the first several hours once he got home. They explained that this would increase oxygen flow to his bloodstream and speed the healing of his surgical wound. It also must be enormously helpful after being intubated and receiving general anesthesia.

I was encouraged to hear this. Doesn't it seem like deep breathing would be one of the best (and least expensive) things hospitals and clinics could do to put patients at ease during procedures and post-op recoveries? Not to mention, knowing how to breathe deeply and mindfully might help the caregivers themselves. (uh-duh, kind of a no-brainer)

Yet most of us remain largely unaware of how we are breathing and what affects our respiration. Unless you are a full-time professional yogi or you have a disorder like asthma (which continues to proliferate, among children especially), you probably take your breathing for granted. After all, it is a reflexive action, something that happens automatically. We don't have to consciously choose to breath in and out all day long; thank goodness! We'd never accomplish anything.

The cool thing about the breath (one of them anyway) is that it is also a process that can be directed. You can choose to hold your breath until you're blue in the face if you want to (but you probably still won't get your way). You can coordinate your swimming with breathing in and out. You can sing. You can breathe your baby out in childbirth. You can slow your breathing down or speed it up. We do this, consciously and unconsciously, all the time. The more awareness of our breathing apparatus we have, the clearer and more powerful our breathing becomes.

First, you have to know your equipment. While a good anatomy book is a joy forever, the best way to learn is by direct experience. Cool Thing #2 about the breath is that it is always with us and so it can be experienced and experimented with at any time. Hey, how about now?

Try This:

  • Assuming you are reading this at your computer, begin by settling into a comfortable upright position. Let your feet be resting flat on the floor, or tuck them under you, Indian-style.
  • Feel the support underneath you. What is holding you up? How is the weight of your body making contact with the chair, cushion or floor? Notice the contact of your back against the chair, or if you are not using back support, simply become aware of the space behind you.
  • Begin to observe your breath. Notice how it drops in and drops out. Follow the in-breath and the out-breath, allow your breathing to be the focus of your attention.
  • Notice what is moving in your body as you breathe. What is happening in your chest? In your belly? Can you feel your shoulders rising and falling as you breathe in and out? Is anything moving in your back? What else do you notice?
  • Take in a very full, deep breath. Let it out on a sigh.
  • Repeat this two more times.
  • What changes do you observe in yourself after taking three big sighs?

Were you surprised at how much is going on in one simple breath? And this is just the really noticeable stuff, like shoulders rising and air moving in and out through nostrils. There's all kinds of chemical exchange going on every time we breathe, and information about our immediate environment being processed by our neuromuscular system. It's interesting to realize that the air we take in and then release out again is our most constant, intimate connection to the world. 

There are so many things in life that are out of our control. Breathing is not one of them. You can learn to breathe with freedom and awareness, decrease the stress in your life, and boost your immune system. (click through to the NPR story above or under Links to see how improving your breathing improves your health.) 

That sounds like a really good way to get through the Winter Holiday Season with comfort and joy!
Come in for a "breathing tune-up" at Way Opens Center. Call me at 917-216-5850.