The Big Idea
We all breathe but do we do it well? This might sound like a silly question but talking with Cathy Hart, vocal coach extraordinaire, we are finding out that a truly life changing tip is as simple as a quick morning breathing exercise to set us up for the day.
The bottom line is that we can all just try too darn hard at some things and breathing is definitely one of those things. Most of us could do with using our pre-frontal cortex to consciously let go and allow our bodies to do what they do best. For some, like our Dulcie, this has meant she has in the past needed to get special training from physiotherapists in order to retrain her brain and body to be more naturally in sync.
Cathy shares with us the top tip of spend at least a minute connecting with your breath before you get out of bed in the morning. Before you get up and out of bed in the morning, lie on your back (if you feel an arch in your back with your legs stretched out, lift your knees so that your feet are flat on the bed) and allow the bed to take the weight of your body. Allow a breath in through your nose and relax as you let it out easily. Just let your body breathe without interference.
Next heighten your awareness to the breath moving in and out of your body. Feel how relaxed and balanced your body feels, how free and flexible your ribs and surrounding muscles feel – there should be no tension in your body. If you feel any tension, mentally let go of it and continue allowing the breath to move unrestricted in and out of your body. Where do you feel the breath? Are your chest and shoulders moving? Can you feel your tummy rise up towards the ceiling when you breathe in and fall down to the bed when you breathe out? Take the breath in and out through your nose and then in and out through your mouth – how does the breath change? Ideally spend at least a minute doing this each morning.
Got it… What’s the Science?!
As humans, we can carry a lot of tension in our bodies when we’re in an upright (standing or sitting) position. This interferes with our muscular and skeletal balance, and the resulting imbalance negatively impacts our breathing. Bad posture, tight abdominals, stress, anxiety – all these things can affect our body’s natural balance and breathing.
We breathe around 25,000 times a day, and the way we breathe can help to fuel and heal our bodies if done properly. Breathing is our main source of life, feeding our cells – you can do without food for weeks; water for hours if not days but; air we all need and can’t do without for 4 minutes or less. In fact holding our breath for significant periods of time is very likely to kill brain cells (we lose thousands every day anyway). Breathing is also one of our main ways of expelling toxins from our body.
Fast or slow breathing? There is a big difference in the impact on your body.
Fast breathing at rest is often shallow and is associated with panic breathing of panic and distress. Rapid breathing means that only about 25% of the air going into the lungs is actually being used. Slow breathing on the other hand means 85% of air is actually used. Breathing slow and ‘low’, as in allowing air to go naturally deeper in your lungs, is far more beneficial, not only in improving our metabolism, but also improving your body’s ability to lower your blood pressure, sleep and heal itself. You see the parasympathetic nerve receptors in lower lungs are with associated with calming the mind and body. Whereas the upper lung can prompt hyperventilating and trigger sympathetic never receptors causing fight, flight, freeze or flock state (we’ll be looking at this in later tips too).
Are you generally a mouth breather or a nose breather? Well it matters!
Nasal (nose) breathing means air passes over the nasal mucosa which stimulate the body’s reflex nerves that control the more relaxed, low breathing. On the other hand, mouth breathing bypasses nasal mucosa complicating and compromising the natural reflex to breathe fully. Not only that but mouth breathing accelerates water loss that can contribute to you dehydrating over the day (hydration is another tip we will come to). Also, we know that air passing through the nose pass over the olfactory bulbs, which is the most direct extension of your brain – with direct access to the limbic complex involved in emotion and some important aspects of memory, as well as the hypothalamus which unconsciously controls your heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, digestion and hormone balance. So it’s safe to say that nose breathing brings more than you might expect! In other words, breathing is so much more than just getting air into your body.
Cathy’s top tip this week is tapping into the power of us to consciously decide and ‘check in’ and listen to how our amazing body is actually preferring to breathe before our thinking brains get busy worrying and emotionally driving a temptation to work overly hard on our breathing. Practising this exercise helps us more easily recognise when we are not breathing in this more natural way. When we notice this let’s take a moment at any time in the day to recalibrate back to how we felt breathing first thing in the morning with our deliberately relaxed, low and slow breathing. Of course we don’t need to lie down during the day – we can do it sitting down or even stranding up if we really have to. Best of all nobody else need know what or why we are practising this.
As coaches deliberately encouraging our clients, and ourselves, to breathe low and slow is a truly top way of quickly calming our brains to better cope with stress, allowing us to be more in control and think more clearly to resolve problems. According to Cathy this also means we get a whole lot more to life than just the air. Breathing! Who’d have thought there was so much to it?!
Watch our Tip #5 on the Instagram Live Recording…
Learn More and Share
Book: “Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor
It really is a very simple one to try with a really profound impact on everyday life.
Slow and low breathing is just the start of far more into communication and singing – stay tuned for more!
Our verdict: There’s no reason not to try this one!
#the52tips are a collection of new and existing ideas – some of which are widely publicised online. Some of the tips may not be good for you if you have an underlying health condition. If you are at all unsure, please check with your doctor before trying anything we suggest.