Sarah Lindsay from Sala movement studio
This article first appeared in The House of Wellness magazine.
Sarah Lindsay from Sala movement studio explains why she is a firm believer in the power of breathwork.
We all breathe, so why is breathwork any different?
The average healthy person completes 15 breath cycles each minute, so if you are lucky enough to live to 100, you would take approximately 786 million in breaths and the same number of out breaths. Despite this, many of us live completely unaware of a single breath. Bringing awareness to your breath can be incredibly meditative and grounding. Physiologically, correct breathing can be beneficial for the respiratory and circulatory systems, including building stronger lungs and helping to lower blood pressure.
Where does it come from?
Breathwork is a new-age breath manipulation technique. Although it has roots in Eastern practices such as yoga, tai chi, and Buddhism, most modern breathwork is based on Stanislav Grof's therapeutic approach, which he developed in the 1970s.
Why is breathwork having such a wellbeing moment?
I think a lot of us are feeling the effects of living most of our adult lives in our sympathetic nervous system and we're chronically tired, sick and uninspired. There's a general movement right now for people to take ownership of their resources: their time, their energy, their creativity. When you value what you have to offer, it becomes very clear that health is the foundation of any other skill or talent.
Can deep breathing lower stress levels?
Yes. A lot of us are not using the full capacity of our breath. When we're living busy, stressful lives our breathing tends to be irregular and shallow. The chest cavity can only expand and contract so much, so we're not utilising the full potential of our biological systems. By engaging in practices such as diaphragmatic breathing, you enable more air to flow into the body, calm the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce anxiety or pain and improve focus.
What types of exercise pair with deep breathwork?
Listening to binaural beats in the lower beta frequencies (14-30Hz) has been linked to improved sleep, mood and focus, as well as increasing creativity and cognitive enhancement. I also love yin yoga and breath combinations. At Sala we run breathwork and vinyasa classes to energise and relax both mind and body. The sense that you can open the tissues of your body and breathe on a cellular level is very healing.
What about as a remedy for mental health issues such as depression?
As someone who suffers from depression I'm very dubious to offer a magic pill. I entered the route of wellness as a direct result of my depression, and for me it has been a combination of sleep, body autonomy, diet, meditation and robust boundaries that have benefited my mental health.
Is there a connection between breathwork and pain management?
Well, after a three-day labour, I will say, in my opinion, yes! Shallow breathing is a common response to stress, while deep, slow breathing is the cornerstone of relaxation. When you breathe deeply, hormones such as nitrous oxide increase in the blood, reducing tension in the body's connective tissues and muscles and decreasing sensitivity to pain. This is why deliberate, deep breathing is considered one of the best drug-free treatments for pain.
What are some simple techniques that can be practised at home?
I once read that US Navy SEALS use the box breathing technique to stay calm and improve their concentration in extremely tense situations:
- Inhale for a count of four
- Pause for a count of four
- Exhale for a count of four
- Pause for a count of four
You're creating the shape of a box with your breath. Try to let the count be smooth, matching the duration and volume of both the inhalation and the exhalation. If this feels a little strange at first, try setting a timer and repeating the exercise for three minutes. Over a month, see if you can increase that time.
Additional information about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
The parasympathetic and sympathetic and nervous systems work together to keep your body on an even keel. The sympathetic nervous system carries signals that put your body's systems on alert, your parasympathetic carries signals that relax those systems.