Unless you've had serious breathing issues like asthma, pneumonia, severe allergies etc, most people don't give their breathing habits a second thought. Without getting too technical, I would like to share why chest breathing needs to be addressed if you want to obtain abundant energy, vitality, clarity and joy from each breath.
Chest breathing is characterised by an outward, upward movement of the chest wall. Many people get into the habit of breathing only with their chests. In fact, 90% of us are chest breathers with the biggest contributors owing to restrictive clothing, poor posture, stress, and conditions that weaken the muscles involved in breathing.
Chest breathing requires the body to work much harder because the rib cage is being lifted and secondary breathing muscles are engaged in order to accomplish the same blood gas mixing than with diaphragmatic breathing. This means more tension in the shoulders, neck, chest and upper back; as well as greater oxygen requirements resulting in more frequent breaths.
Chest breathing is natural and useful during vigorous exercise but it is quite inappropriate for ordinary, everyday activity.
When we breathe primarily in the chest we stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, or the fight or flight response that occurs when we are aroused by external or internal challenges or danger. As a result, chest breathing is associated with other symptoms of arousal like tension and anxiety. Since there is a reciprocal relationship between breathing and the mind, chest breathing, if continued during rest periods, will lead to tension and anxiety, thus creating a vicious circle.
In addition to this, research shows that chest breathers have a higher risk of heart disease, among other serious health conditions
Chest breathers are seldom aware of their breath pattern and commonly breathe in a shallow, jerky and unsteady manner, resulting in unsteadiness of the mind and emotions. Without realising the root cause lies in their breath pattern, chest breather's often resign to living with their symptoms or seek medications and interventions.
We are often unaware of our breath pattern unless our breathing becomes extremely difficult or radically discordant. Without retraining ourselves to breathe using a deep, even, and steady diaphragmatic breath pattern efforts to relax the body, nerves and mind will be ineffective.
If you would like to have a breath analysis and learn to build a healthy relationship with your breath, I am offering my popular workshop, Breathe Into Being on Saturday Feb 23rd from 10:00-12:30. I am also available for 1-1 Discover Your Breath and/or Transformational Breath® sessions.
IAs we ease into December, it is only natural that we reflect on the year that is coming to a close. The short days of winter offer a precious opportunity to slow down and steal moments of silence for self-reflection.
Ask yourself: What have you done this year that you are really happy with? What would you like to devote more energy to polish? What is awakening in you that you would like to nourish and grow?
These reflections can be fleeting- particularly in a world where we so easily jump from one thing to the next - so I invite you to consider a powerful practice that I use regularly: RITUAL.
I really love the power of rituals to bring a potent aliveness to these reflections and pave my path forward. Rituals truly help to anchor and nourish your intentions.
Rituals can be used for clarity, manifestation, releasing and grounding to name a few. Rituals often incorporate fire, smudging, meditation, song, dance.
This month offers several potent days that are wonderful to perform ritual including the Winter Solstice (Dec 21st), the New Moon (Dec 7th) and Full Moon (Dec 22nd).
December 21st is the Winter Solstice or Yule. In the Northern Hemisphere, this day officially marks the beginning of Winter and is shortest day of the year. It is also the day that we move towards more light.
Here is a ritual suggestion for the Winter Solstice:
1. To greet the return of the Sun on December 21st, wake 30 minutes before the sunrise and breathe in the Solar New Year. There is great feeling to greet the light, both within and without.
2. Light a candle and journal what you wish to seed for this year. The seed holds all codes and transmissions and to speak these wishes out loud and/or to take a seed and plant it into the Earth where it will gestate through the Winter, is very powerful.
3. In the dark, release what you wish to 'compost'. Into the soil of the Earth, you can let go of your limiting beliefs, your "not good-enoughs", your shadows and trust that Mother Earth can transmute them for you.
… do you have a friend who needs to feel the earth under her feet? Share this with them ...
Despite popular belief, being brave is not about being fearless. Fear is natural - it's part of being human - we ALL feel it. We meet it everyday when we stand up for ourselves, to popular opinion, change the way we do things, try something new, experience conflict, feel embarrassed... and when we do it is important to understand that we have two choices.
1. To batten down the hatches, armour up and shut down in order to protect ourselves.
2. Breathe and lean in to it.
Most of us learn from a young age that Option 1 is our only option. It gives us a sense of control and may even feel natural - and honestly most of us aren't taught any other way. We want to build an impenetrable wall around our gentle heart - it's about self-preservation.
And yet, if we breathe and lean into the discomfort - the fear- we open ourselves to the greater possibility of living bolder and fully alive and rewiring the neural pathways that have previously lead us to feel isolated within and without.
I know, I know. Option 2 looks good on paper - but it feels uncomfortable.
So how the heck do we do this?
First of all we ALL need to get better at feeling. If we immediately shutdown in response to any feeling that feels sticky and uncomfortable - we can never know it. In order to truly know it - we must befriend it. If we don't allow for the small feelings to have a voice they become big feelings. And if they don't have a voice they simmer and bubble within like an emotional Mount Vesuvius and lead to dis-ease.
Last month I shared about the second thing we can do (Sept newsletter/blog)- we need to leave the Perfection Party. March on out and don't look back. Perfectionism and our fear of failure sidelines our happiness, ability to be vulnerable, and self-loving. As American TV psychologist, Dr Phil would say "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?"
I understand that the thought of allowing yourself to be imperfect and vulnerable seems less appealing than a vomit flavoured jellybeans (yes, there are such a thing), but vulnerability is a trait that makes us human: approachable, relatable and real.
To do this it is important that we stay open and curious. When we are closed we invite judgment, fear, blame and in both a personal and global way - we eliminate solutions.
Replace “I know” with “I wonder”.
I know that when I do this, when I'm feeling painfully vulnerable; it means things might really change. There's a powerful cultural mandate of “being right” that has built a prison over our own, deep forests of curiosity.
Despite how scary this might feel, I know more and more who are spending courageous heart-time asking very tough, honest questions. This is the work and it is your greatest masterpiece.
Can you name all the ways you're brave? To be showing up in this moment? To be working to make a better world? To choose to really work through the stuff that holds you back? To simply choose kindness, open-mindedness in any given moment?
I think most would agree with his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Buddhist teachings - we all want to be happy. And yet there has never been a time in history that we have had access to so much that promised us happiness - wealth, education, healthcare, technology - and been less happy than ever.
Research on the subject shows that there is a causal relationship between our wandering minds and unhappiness and that perfectionism is a leading cause of unhappiness.
Amongst the research is a 2017 study of 41,000 college students from Great Britain, the US, and Canada by Tal Ben-Shahar, a researcher, positive psychologist and Harvard professor. He found that in the time between 1989 and 2016 the pressure of perfectionism among college students increased and happiness decreased.
In a world dominated by digital and millions wishing to present their perfect self on social media - is it any wonder that our distracted minds are more preoccupied with the portrayal and possibility of a perfect life than what's actually here, NOW? Enter stress and unhappiness.
So what can we do about it? How do we stay present in this moment, mindful and leave the 'perfection party'?
The practice of meditation is key.
Before you say "I've tried it- it's too hard"... "It's not for me- I'm a more active person"... "I can't sit for that long without pain"... it's important to understand nobody (except for perhaps a few exceptions) was born with natural ease in meditation- not even monks. I'm serious. I've asked several of my monk friends and they have all said it took time and commitment to meditate.
The good news is that there are practices that the wisdom traditions have understood for thousands of years that are easy to learn. Quite simply, your breath is your SUPERPOWER.
When we come into conscious awareness of our breath, the mind becomes quiet, steady, clear. Welcome to the present moment (clouds parting, sun shining, angel singing!).
There are untold gifts and freedom to be had when we release the mind, clear limiting self-beliefs, and open to the expansive joy of a full and open breath.
Is it easy? Yes ... and no
Our breath is with us all the time, however our monkey minds have been been in control for at least 3 decades and it's not going to like stepping out of the drivers seat.
Is it possible? Absolutely.
It just takes practice and the strong commitment to bridge a friendship with your breath.
The secret: START.
We are under the illusion that TIME will magically bring us what we seek. However, you must take action because if you keep doing what you've done, you'll keep getting what you've got!
It's time for us to truly wake up and truly embody our experience here, now. You were fortunate to wake up this morning because many assumed they would too and didn't. This isn't morbid- it's the truth: Every day is a gift.
If you want greater health and happiness in your life, and learn the self-empowering tool of breathwork I'd be happy to show you.
Reach out if you are interested in 1-1 sessions or in one of my workshops: Breathe Into Being and soon Breathe, Flow and Let Go - that incorporates movement and breath discovery.
The subtle nature of the breath and our relationship to it is ongoing because our life and circumstances continue to change. For those who have attended a breath workshop or done sessions with me don't hesitate to reach out if you need more support to come back to your fullest and most vital self.
I am endlessly humbled after years of working with my own breath to uncover 'stuff' and go even deeper.
Sunday Oct 14th, I am offering a Breathe Into Being workshop at Loosloo yoga studio in Basel.
BONUS OFFER: Sign up and receive an audio GIFT to guide you into your breath anytime, anywhere ♥
Breathe and be happy!