Confused about breathing?
Simplifying breathing to get what you need from it. By Micaela Maddedu
It is overwhelming and confusing every time we start reading about breath: what type is good and when, belly breath, chest breath, diaphragmatic, apical, ujjayi, nadi shodhana, hyperventilation and these are just few of the options!
Let us try to simplify and experience more to make sense of it. First, what are we using the breath for? Is it for an intense practice, a relaxing one or a destressing one?
In these days and times where everything is moving very fast and sometimes feels very chaotic, what do you think is best for you? Let us focus on the rate of breath (or number of breaths per minute). A normal rate should be around 14 to 16 breaths per minute. Try for yourself, aim to breath at around 20 breaths per minute. It does not feel very nice, right? It is almost like an anxiety attack that sends our nervous system into fight-or-flight mode when there is no physical need for it. Notice where you are breathing from, the tendency is to breathe apically (or simply with the upper chest and neck); such a breath creates tension in the shoulders, neck and chest muscles stimulating our sympathetic response to fight-or-flight. Now, let us try to slow down the breath rate; do not hold the breath, aim to take six to ten breaths per minute. Does that feel better? You are now more likely to be breathing diaphragmatically (or simply belly breathing), such breath takes the nervous system into a rest-and-digest state, and it calms us down.
To further understand the nervous system, try now to keep the rate of the breath low but make the inhalation longer than the exhalation. Can you feel yourself tensing? It feels as if you almost want to hold the breath. Now reverse it, and make the exhalation longer. Do you feel calmer and more relaxed, able to let go instead of holding onto tension?
Now that you have experienced it yourself practice it and learn how to use the breath to calm your body, nervous system and mind. You do not need to be part of a yoga class or a meditation practice, you could do this at work or at any time you feel overwhelmed or under pressure. It will not take much and it will make you feel much better.