Something interesting happened last week. I realised I don’t breathe. Well… of course I breathe, enough to sustain myself, but I don’t REALLY breathe deeply and fully.
The realisation came when I was at training. I had been huffing and puffing over the course of the workout, so I was breathing enough, but then it came to the stretching. My trainer, Aaron from Primal Fitness (who on a separate note is AMAZING!), instructed us to hold a stretch, breathe deeply, down into our diaphragm, and let our belly expand. I took a deep breath in… nothing moved. That was strange. So I took another deep breath in… nothing moved. Third time lucky… I took a deep breath in and consciously released the tension in my stomach, and it felt incredible! Which got me thinking… For as long as I can remember in this journey of IBS, I don’t think I have had a moment where I have let it all hang out. I have been so aware of, and upset by my bloated belly that I have been constantly walking around trying to hold my tummy in. To the point where now I can’t even determine what relaxed is. How exhausting!
The importance of breathing
Many philosophies, healing modalities and cultures recognise the importance of the breath. In a scientific sense, the exchange of air through the lungs fuels our cells, rids the body of waste products and allows life to be sustained. In many eastern philosophies, the breath is viewed as the spirit or vital force, and therefore fuels us not only on a physical level, but as an emotional and spiritual body too. If you think about it… it is known that we can live without food for a number of weeks, without water for a number days, but without air we will only survive a few minutes… and even then just a restriction of our oxygen supply will result in damage to our vital organs and loss of mental function. So why is it then, that we spend so much time planning our food, filtering our water, but we rarely think about the way we breathe?
Imagine a time when you felt stressed, upset or anxious. What happened to your breath? Most likely it became short and shallow. Now think about a time when you felt extremely content or relaxed. What happened to your breath? Queue sigh… *Ahhhhhhhhh…*. I feel relaxed already 🙂
Neglecting your breath, or barely breathing at all, places your body into a degree of constant stress – not just on an emotional level, but physically as well. For someone who suffers with IBS, a condition that is strongly linked with emotions and the nervous system, it is clear that this would not be beneficial. But it can be changed.
Breathing is one of the only functions of the body that can be voluntarily and involuntarily controlled. By consciously changing our breathing patterns through daily exercises and mindful breathing, our unconscious rhythms will adapt over time allowing us to literally shape our physical and emotional state throughout the day.
So here is my commitment to you and to myself, and I would love for you to join in. Over the coming days, weeks, months, I am going to practice mindful breathing at least twice a day. This is an exercise that works well for me:
- Breathe in deeply through the nose for 4 counts
- Hold for 7 counts
- Breathe out fully through the mouth for 8 counts
- Repeat 4 times
Now I don’t want anyone holding their breath for too long and passing out, so a “count” can be as fast or slow as you can manage. It is more about the rhythm, and you can easily work towards a slower pattern once your body and mind is accustomed.
There are many benefits to mindful breathing… firstly it is FREE! And CONVENIENT! So there is no excuse for not trying it. Secondly, it can help to alleviate stress and anxiety, increase concentration and productivity, reduce fatigue, while encouraging relaxation. Thirdly, there is emerging evidence to support the role of mindful breathing and meditation in the treatment or management of chronic disease and pain, including conditions like IBS, anxiety or mood disorders, cancer and even flu or the common cold. Not to mention there are no harmful side effects, no contraindications, and did I mention it was FREE?
So let’s try it out 🙂 I would love to hear about your experience, so please feel free to comment below, or join in the conversation on my Facebook page.
Sending lots of love and well-being, REMEMBER TO BREATHE!
P.S If you would like a guided breathing exercise check out the Smiling Mind app or download Ramdesh Kaur – Guided Meditation for Conscious Breathing, it is incredibly beautiful