The Forgotten Art of Breathing.
Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our lives and we will call it fate" - Carl Jung
Breathing. We do it roughly 26,000 times a day, but few of us gave much thought to this automatic function. While we can survive without food for weeks and without water for days, most of us will only live a few minutes, without air. Yet still, we devote far more of our energy to thinking about what we're going to eat and drink on any given day.
In many Eastern cultures and religions, conscious breathing forms the foundation of practices and beliefs, and has done so for centuries. If, for example, you have practiced yoga at one of our many great studios on the Beaches, you might have heard the term, ‘pranayama’ in a class, or the phrase ‘conscious breathing’. Maybe even ‘vital life force’. In Buddhism, it is referred to as ‘anapanasati’ - the practice of mindful breathing. In these spaces, breath is respected and the benefits are acknowledged extensively.
During a recent breath workshop I was giving a group of corporate clients, I was explaining the scientific importance of breathing slower and less often. A kind gentleman told me he was taught from a young age that in India, you “have a certain number of breaths per life” . I thought it was a wonderful observation, and a reminder to make them slow, purposeful and to enjoy each one.
However, there are ties connecting the East and West approaches to breathing, and as we realise the power contained in a single breath, those ties are only growing thicker. This story will delve into some of the research and techniques driving the breathwork movement. Perhaps it will even encourage you to tune into your own breathing some more.
The New Science and Extensive Impacts
How we breathe affects us physically, psychologically and mentally. As such, paying attention to breath and thinking of it as a tool can have a quick and positive impact on our bodies and minds. Just as eating organic foods, drinking a glass of water with lemon in the morning, or enjoying a sauna encourages your body to reduce toxins and build up your immune system, different forms of breathing can have similarly detoxifying effects. Yet we give very little thought or credit to the power, readiness and impact, of your natural breathing habit. Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our lives and we will call it fate" - Carl Jung
Practising breathwork can benefit all of us. But what it has to offer athletes can be especially transformative. If you're a surfer, swimmer or you enjoy high intensity training, but you’ve never been taught to engage the diaphragm, one of the strongest stabilisers in the entire body, for example, could take your performance to new heights.
Increasingly, more and more research supporting the positive correlation between breath and athletic performance, allergies, asthma, snoring, mood, stress and focus is being published. Author and journalist James Nestor's book Breath does a phenomenal job of exploring the world of breathwork and more specifically, the benefits of nasal breathing.
Our bodies were designed to breathe through the nose. Again, Eastern cultures teach their children from a young age to sleep with their mouth closed. Yet about half of us are chronic mouth breathers, a style of breathing that irritates the lungs, increases the risk of respiratory infection and causes a pattern of shallow breathing.
Do you find yourself waking up in the middle of night in need of the bathroom, or a glass of water? Often, this is because of mouth breathing. It zaps the body of moisture and stops us from entering deep, or REM, sleep.
By breathing in and out of the nose, we not only filter the air, but it helps us take fuller deeper breaths and allows us to absorb up to 20% more oxygen into the blood due to the buildup of co2 in our bodies.
I like to think of ocean swimming when explaining the effects of mouth breathing or shallow breathing. Either you can take a bunch of very short, fast, laboured strokes, and you'll eventually get to Shelly Beach. It's going to take a little longer, and you’ll pull up puffed, but you'll get there. Or you could take a series of fluid and extended strokes, and get there so much more enjoyably and efficiently.
How to Breath for Different Outcomes.
When it comes to kicking your body and mind into gear, it pays to think of breathing as your gear stick.
Through purely emphasising inhales or exhales, it will change what ‘gear’ you are in, the way that your brain works, how well you function and how you feel. Slow, stable and long exhale breathing calms the heart, reduces blood pressure, and helps you to think clearly. Why? Because it is a parasympathetic response and creates space for the heart to beat. Alternatively, if you place your focus on inhaling, the body's sympathetic response will kick in, which can help generate energy and adrenaline. This is why you are often buzzing after a run or workout.
In this day and age, burdened by stress and overstimulation,, we spend the majority of our days in a fight and flight mode, often racing through life in fifth gear, when we should be in first. One way to slow down is by getting your baseline breathing right. Allow your body the chance to recover, reset and rest properly - you will be surprised by how your surfing, swimming and even social life improves (a as it might be to fathom right now). But the research is there: How we breathe can help with health and longevity, and paying attention to it is long overdue.
Three Tips and Takeaways
- Focus on nasal breathing as much as you can. Try to implement it in your everyday life, fitness and sleeping routines. For the brave, there is even mouth tape that will help you to keep your mouth shut during the night.
- Take the time to do some deep, long exhales. Just a few consecutive seven second exhales can have a major positive impact. This can be practised before bed, after working out, or when you are in need of a little bit of calm amongst the chaos in the middle of your day.
- Take time to tune in to your breath - this could be through yoga, simple box breathing, breath holds, or even just a couple of deep belly breaths. You don’t have to do 20 minutes of breathwork a day to make a shift - start by making small changes that add up.
However in today's age, we spend a majority of the day in a fight and flight mode, often cruising around life in gear 5, when we should be in gear 1. So start with getting your baseline breathing right. Allow your body the chance to recover, reset and rest properly - you would be surprised with how your surfing, swimming and social life improves. As hard as it might be to consider right now, there’s a silver lining in all this lockdown time. How we breathe may help with health and longevity and paying attention to it is long overdue.
Three Tips and Takeaways
- Focus on nasal breathing as much as you can. Try and implement it into everyday life, workouts and sleeping. There is mouth tape that will help those during the night to keep their mouth shut.
- Take the time to do some deep long exhales. Just a few 7 second exhales can have a major positive impact. This can be before bed, after work out, or when you are in need of a little bit of calm amongst the chaos.
- Take time to tune in to your breath - this could be through yoga, simple box breathing, breath holds, or even just a couple of deep belly breaths. You don’t have to do 20 mins of breathwork a day to make a shift - start by making small changes that add up.
Dive Deep - Resources and Learnings
- Learn more from Emma at SISUU experiences
- Read Breath by James Nestor
- Dive deep into the science with Andrew Huberman on @HubermanLab podcast
- Buy Micropore tape from the Chemist Warehouse, to use as mouth tape at night