Learning to Breathe Correctly

Many therapists will be aware that stress is a common condition in clients. As part of a fully rounded and holistically centered therapy, teaching clients simple stress relief can be invaluable. Practising correct breathing habits yourself will also benefit you greatly. It imparts extra energy, keeps the body loose and relaxed and installs a certain calmness that can only assist the client in feeling comfortable and regenerated during their treatment. A stressful lifestyle makes us breathe more quickly and less deeply and with bad breathing habits it is easier to become emotionally anxious. Conversely, our negative reactions make us easily excited or angry, causing shallow and fast breathing. You may notice that when one is restless, troubled or confused we tend towards shallow breathing even more than is our normal habit. Breathing is so much a part of our lives that we tend to take it for granted. Ancient philosophers and yogis, through their calmness and intellect, discovered the powers of controlled breathing techniques. We inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide – each time we inhale the body receives oxygen which is converted to fuel to charge or activate the body parts. Each time we exhale the body throws out toxic wastes in the form of carbon dioxide. Most of us use only a fraction of our lung capacity while breathing and by doing so we unknowingly put a lot of pressure on our body system. Quick, shallow breathing in oxygen starvation which can lead to a poor immune system, sleep disorders, fatigue, heart diseases, anxiety and premature ageing. Deep breathing reduces stress, deepens insight, expands consciousness and increases intuitive perception. It heals the body and can be used successfully to treat many conditions such as asthma, anxiety, panic attacks and sleep apnea. Shallow breathing blocks energy and healing to the body whereas deep, rhythmical breathing generates energy and power. Simple breathing exercises In most first consultations with new clients I generally check their breathing patterns as most people present with stress. I ask my client to take a deep breath in for me, and then slowly release. Nine times out of ten, my client will take a deep breath in and lift the shoulders while constricting the chest area. As they breathe in they almost always constrict the tummy inwards. This is incorrect, as relaxed and healthy deep inwards breath creates that the expansion of the tummy, not contraction. If you watch a baby or child breathe in you will note that this is instinctively how they do it. Remember; the tummy expands out on the in breath and contracts in on the out breath as you expel the air. If you wish to make deep, abdominal breathing an integral part of your daily life and you wish to teach clients, first familiarise yourself with natural abdominal breathing, which involves four distinct stages: Inhalation, retention, exhalation and pause. • Inhalation One of the most common errors during inhalation is to try to fill the lungs completely on each inhalation. One should never force inhalation beyond comfortable capacity. About two-thirds full is the right measure for an inhalation. • Retention If properly performed, even brief retention of breath provides profound therapeutic benefits to every organ, gland and functional system in the body. Taoists refer to breath retention as womb breathing because the lungs don’t move. The foetus in the womb receives oxygen and energy directly through the umbilical cord, not the lungs. Breath retention for 3-4 seconds slows down heart beat, reduces blood pressure substantially, and triggers cellular respiration. • Exhalation This is more important than inhalation as one has to first thoroughly empty the lungs in order to fill them properly with fresh air. Empty lungs in reverse order of inhalation, starting at the top and ending at the bottom. • Pause When the lungs are completely empty, pause for a few seconds to permit the abdominal wall and the diaphragm to relax again, then commence a slow inhalation The complete breathing process should be slow, will expand the abdomen and ribcage while inhaling and follow just the reverse process when exhaling: Breathe out the air while letting the abdomen cave in.  Deep breathing is at its best done with a nice straight back but I also encourage clients to practice deep, relaxed breathing while waiting in that frustrating traffic jam, while at the computer or office desk or while confronting an annoying situation. Somehow it just makes it better! I suggest to clients that they practise deep breathing exercises for at least five minutes a day until this system of breathing becomes more like second nature; in fact just as nature intended us to breathe.

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