Deep Breathing Techniques,
Lesson 1 of 6
Breathing exercises can be extremely versatile. They can be used in many ways: to open up the insides of your body, increase blood flow and cultivate life-force energy, and as an internal organ massage, doorway into meditation and vehicle for making the body conscious. One of the most practical functions of deep breathing techniques is releasing the nerves to prepare your body for your exercise, which will optimise your training results. Even if you do not have a regular exercise practice, you can use deep breathing techniques just a few minutes each day to start improving your current state of health.
Breathing Techniques Enhance Exercise Programmes
I’ve been teaching Tao movement and meditation arts for nearly two decades, and I find that many of my students don’t have an answer when asked how they warm up and prepare for energy exercise. I suspect the same is true for other exercise programmes.
However, going directly into training–without a proper transition–limits potential health benefits that could be yours for the same practice time. The reasons are three-fold:
- Building up to the main event prevents injuries as a result of a “cold” body that can take you out of the game and cause setbacks to your overall progress.Shifting your mind’s attention to the main event creates focus and concentration, so you can be more effective.
- You train yourself to counter the stress response with a relaxation response, which is particularly useful in modern life.
Three Keys to Deep Breathing Techniques
How many times have you started your practice to find yourself fighting your body? What you could do easily yesterday seems difficult once again. Or maybe you’re agitated mentally or emotionally, and you have to work through it for a few minutes to quiet your mind and get in the zone. breathing techniques can be a terrific portal for calming down your nervous system and gaining access to your innerself with just a few gentle, deep and slow breaths.
The three keys to whole-body, deep breathing are:
- Continuous circularity, and
- Letting go of the need to achieve results.
When you train sufficiently to simultaneously apply all three keys, your mind lets go, your nerves release and your body relaxes deeply.
Good Posture for Breathing
At first, I recommend that you practise deep breathing techniques while in a sitting position (see my blog that considers the optimal sitting posture in-depth). Of course, you can practise while standing (see my blog and video on good posture while standing), but you’ll have gravity to contend with and your mind will more easily wander to other things instead of focusing on your breathing. I also suggest that you sit in a comfortable chair or sofa, or a place where your spine is fully supported. Later, you can practise without spinal support or while standing, but these methods are best saved until you have learned how to completely release your nerves.
Don’t Confuse Relaxed with Collapsed
Sit comfortably with support for your back. Do your best to keep your body open by allowing your spine to lengthen up, while your feet remain flat on the floor, your tailbone is dropped and your shoulders, arms, chest, ribs and organs relax to gravity—just as you would in a standing position.
Observe Your Breathing Pattern
Now focus on your breathing pattern. At first, just observe without trying to affect anything you notice. Is your breathing sudden, jerky, hard or broken?
After a few minutes, start to encourage your breathing pattern to become a bit more smooth and more continuous. DO NOT FORCE YOUR BREATH to do anything, or you can elicit a stress response in the body. Actively wait for your breath to relax. Keep noticing until you feel you have gone as far as you can for today. Some days are better than others, so even if your breathing practice went well yesterday do not demand that it be so again today.
Improve Your Breathing Technique
Next, start to notice the changeover from in-breath to out-breath and from vice-versa. Is there a gap, or do you involuntarily hold your breath at one or both of these change points? At first just observe.
Then, when you have assessed the situation, start to work towards circularity. In the beginning, you simply want to link the in-breath to the out-breath and vice-versa, without holding or stopping the breath or any gaps between the inhale or exhale. You can envision a gentle wave from the ocean riding up the beach, which can be seen as the in-breath. When the wave reaches its furthest point on the shore, it starts to slide back from gravity pulling it downhill, which can be seen as the out-breath. So the breath comes into the body and, as the lungs fill with air, the in-breath becomes thin like the wave from the ocean reaching the end of its climb. The out-breath starts naturally without a gap, break or holding of the breath. Practise and apply the same principal to the changeover from the out- to in-breath.
As breathing in and out becomes more comfortable and easy, go to the next step.
Consciously Relax with Every In- + Out-breath
On every out-breath, consciously relax your nerves. On the in-breath, maintain the level of relaxation and, on the out-breath, increase the level and depth of relaxation in your nerves. When the nerves let go, your flesh, muscles and other tissues, as well as your innermost folds and cavities, release and soften.
Practise for as long as you feel comfortable without pushing yourself. Maybe you will only practise for a few minutes in the beginning. That’s great. Your body will contract if you push, so err on the conservative side, and if in doubt leave more repetitions out. Any tension will break the flow you have created, so stop at the first sign of fatigue in your body or mind. It takes less effort to relax than to contract, so let go of the need to achieve results and you will find it much easier to release the body, nerves and mind.
Now, in this prepared space, try your Tao movement arts or other exercise porgramme and see if you notice any difference. You can also use these breathing techniques any time you feel a stress spike or anxiety welling up inside. In time and with practice, you can reduce anxiety and encourage a sense of deep relaxation any time you feel you need it.