A lot of people do deep breathing exercises to help themselves relax and calm down. However, many of us misunderstand how the breath actually works. This means, at best, that we will not be getting the most out of the exercises, and at worst we could actually be causing harm. Through my Alexander Technique training I have learned many things about the breath as it relates to our overall coordination, but I believe there are two key things that, once we understand them, can really help us allow our breathing to function more fully and naturally.
1. Our Ribs Move with our Breath!
The ribs are extremely important for the functioning of our breath, yet most people don’t even realize they have a part to play.
Without getting too technical, our lungs are housed within our rib cage, and the diaphragm muscle attaches all the way around to the lowest ribs. So as the lungs fill with air (when we breathe in) the ribs raise up and out – all the way around, front, sides and back. When we breathe out, the ribs lower again.
Simply understanding and acknowledging that our ribs move with the breath, can have a huge impact on our breathing capacity, and the ability to breathe freely. If we’re under the misconception that all the expansion is out in front, or in our belly (even subconsciously) we will unknowingly be limiting our breathing capacity.
2. Don’t Take a Breath!
Holding the breath is one of the biggest sources of tension in the body. Maybe you’re holding your breath now? If so I encourage you not to take a breath, but to let out any breath you’ve been holding in, allowing the new breath to come in gently and naturally. If we actively take a breath we are most likely tightening up and sucking in. If we first let out any stale air, the in-breath will just come on its own. Except under perhaps extreme or specialized conditions, we don’t need to ever take a breath!
Try this: Without taking a breath first (!) let out whatever breath you have by letting the air out gently through the lips as if you are blowing out a candle. Let the lips come gently together and just simply notice the air come back in through your nose. Now put your hands on the side of your rib cage as you breathe out, then as you let the breath come in see if you can feel the movement of your ribs under your hands. If you can reach to put your hand on your back you’ll feel movement there too.
Knowing these things can challenge how we think about breathing in general and about breathing exercises in particular. Having a better understanding of just these two things, and putting them in the context of our overall coordination, can have a huge impact on our well-being.
Did you know these things already? If not, did anything change in your breathing just thinking about it differently? I challenge you to try just observing your breath and noticing these things – I think you’ll feel calmer already. Let me know how you got on.