I’ve spent a long time in the company of yogis and physiotherapists, there the importance of the breath is taken for granted. Within my profession as a physiotherapist and yoga instructor I’ve taught awareness of breath and breathing techniques countless times. Within the field of my job it has never really been questioned as to why I’m teaching breathing, in yoga it comes with the territory, and as a medical professional I quote the scientific evidence that it reduces stress, anxiety and blood pressure and there you have it – thats enough to tell my patients who have exactly those issues.
Recently I’ve come to know a new friend who is not in the yoga branch, she does not have high blood pressure, does not consider herself to be stressed or suffering in any particular way, at least not in any way that she would consider related to her breathing. But she barely breathes, her breath is quick and shallow; the expansion and contraction of her ribcage barely perceptible, the tummy doesn’t move at all.
Having spent some time talking to her about breathing and its importance I realised it is an subject that is not so easily potted into a social conversation, I struggled to explain why in fact she should spend time focusing on her breathing, especially when we did some belly breathing she just got dizzy.
If you watch a child breathing you will see him breathing with his whole body, the air fills his lungs easily, the ribcage expands, the tummy expands then the air leaves his body with no tension, ribcage and tummy contracting gently for the cycle to repeat effortlessly again and again. As we grow up our anxieties, fears and sometimes physical injuries lead to us holding tensions in various muscles in our body, this happens with the breathing muscles too. As these tensions become habitual they gradually harden and cause disruptions to that free, deep and easy breathing we were born with.
If you, like my friend, have become so used to shallow breathing that it has become your normal, you might be ok with that, but if you had got used to the clouds and forgotten the sky could look any other way would you really never again want to experience the sun?
When we are unaware of things, like our breathing, it can feel easier to remain unaware than to take the long hard route of becoming aware; ignorance can be bliss. But the price of that ignorance is a lack of ability to read the body’s signals. The quality of the breath tells us so much about the state of our internal affairs, small changes in breathing tell us that we have just become anxious, stressed, relaxed etc etc, only if we receive that information can we go about adjusting accordingly to maintain our inner equilibrium. Without the myriad of information the breath gives us it is easy to remain too long in a destructive environment, in anxiety and stress, stuffing those messages behind a wall of muscle tension. This is why we hold our breath in moments of fear. For that moment it is an effective coping mechanism, to live your life in that way is very restrictive indeed, possibly even akin to not living at all.
“If you listen to your body when it whispers you’ll never have to hear it scream.” ~ Unknown
In my next articles I’ll try to answer the question of why it is important with breathing and why it is detrimental in the long term to have a restricted shallow breathing. I aim to write in a way that is easy to read without a lot of medical or yoga jargon but still gives a good, in-depth knowledge of breathing from a medical, psychological and yoga perspective. 🙂 Happy breathing.
Anatomy and physiology of breathing
How Breathing Helps us to Read the Body’s Signals
The Importance of Being Aware of our Breath
The Breath in the Spiritual Path
Re-learning how to Breath
I’m a physiotherapist and yoga therapist, if you are interested in learning amore about breathing and body awareness please contact me. My website is:
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