By Kirsten Antony R.N. ~
Just breathe. These are two incredibly powerful words that can transform your health. Seize the moment right now and just focus on your breathing. Take an inhalation through your nose deep into the depths of your belly. Feel the power of your inhalation. Feel the power of your exhalation. Repeat as often as you need to until you attain a sense of relaxation. It shouldn’t take long before you observe a shift in your energy. Breath is life. The Latin word spiritus (spirit) is translated to breath, life and soul. Breath is life force energy and is the first action we take as we enter this world as a newborn and the last action we take at the end of our life. It is so fundamental and simple, but can move heaven and earth.
From a physiological standpoint, on average, 12-16 breaths per minute is necessary to bring oxygen into our lungs and release carbon monoxide for cellular functioning. Air enters through our nose or mouth through the throat, larynx, trachea and into the lungs. The respiratory system works in conjunction with the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS works like autopilot and many people have breathing habits in which stressors have triggered the fight-or-flight response. This can lead to shallow breathing. We have to power to override the ANS by using breathwork, intentional breathing, to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and–digest) in which breathing slows and induces a relaxation response.
One of the first steps in breathwork is to become aware of your current breathing pattern. Many people breathe in ways that don’t fully engage their diaphragm, which in a relaxed state, is how we were made to breathe fully. The diaphragm is a muscle at the base of the chest which you can feel move at the bottom of your ribcage when taking a deep breath. Breathing should be relaxed and full, inhaling into the diaphragm in and out through the nose. Breathing through the nose has many benefits. The nose is a filter that helps capture unwanted guests to our respiratory system like allergens, viruses and bacteria. Breathing through the nose produces nitric oxide which aids in this immune function as well as being a vasodilator which improves oxygen circulation. The nose is also a natural humidifier and breathing through the nose can improve lung capacity and strengthen the diaphragm. Take deep breaths, into the diaphragm, breathing through your nose. Stress can easily shuffle a healthy pattern into chaos. Breathwork can help inform our bodies back into homeostasis.
Breathwork can benefit the body in many ways. It can help relieve pain, decrease stress, increase energy levels, improve the immune system, improve the digestive system, stimulate the lymphatic system along with decreasing blood pressure and heart rate. Working with the breath can also have profound effects on the emotions. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the emotion of grief is associated with the lungs. Deep breathing can assist with the release of the tightness and heaviness in the chest associated with sadness and grief. Suppressed emotions can manifest into physical ailments. Working with emotions through the breath can assist in transforming the energy into a healthy flow state help alleviate feelings of grief, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. Reconnecting to our breath helps us reconnect with our inner world as well as our outer world and helps us become more adaptable to our daily dilemmas. Breathwork helps to make the unconscious conscious.
There are types of breathwork that are practiced that can bring the practitioner to increased spiritual awareness and altered states of consciousness. Practices such as Holotropic, Shamanic, Rebirthing, Transformational and Wim Hof are all methods of breathwork that are used therapeutically. Like with many exercises, there can be contraindications. If you suffer from certain conditions please consult a physician before trying a new exercise. Breathwork can be intense, so please never attempt a breathing exercise if it makes you uncomfortable.
Breathwork is also often used in conjunction with other holistic modalities to obtain a deep state of relaxation. Practices such as Qigong, yoga, meditation, visualization, mindfulness and sound healing may all incorporate breathing exercises into a session. Breathwork in conjunction with these practices encourage a deeper healing effect and can enhance just about any practice.
An example of incorporating two modalities is the use of toning and breath together. Toning is the use of the voice and vowel sounds to bring balance to the body. The combination of the two can be very dynamic in moving energy. To reconnect to the heart and lung center of the body, the sound “ah” is very powerful and is the sound of letting go. If you feel stressed, anxious, depressed, or are grieving, this sound can help move stagnant energy. Try the “ah” sound during exhalation and see how quickly you feel a change in emotions and state of relaxation. You should feel it resonate in the chest area. With practice, this can help repattern your energy to a state of homeostasis, but can be practiced at any time you need a shift of emotions.
Breathwork is a beautiful entry point to healing. But know that healing isn’t necessarily a cure and healing isn’t always a destination point from A to B. Healing is an expression and renewal into wholeness. It is a spectrum of energies that flow from one state to another just like the inflow and outflow of the breath. Healing should be playful and joyful. Play with the breath and feel the energy of your emotions and where they reside. Relax. Breathe deeply. Go inward. Rest in this moment for each breath is life and each breath is a gift.
This content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician and/or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition.
Kirsten Antony is a Registered Nurse and Holistic Health Care Practitioner. She offers in-home services of foot care, reflexology, sound healing and healing touch to those in the Denver Metro Area. For more information please visit: www.kirstenantony.net or www.facebook.com/soultosoleholistichealthcare or call 303-668-8992.