Taking a breath …

Yesterday I hosted a breathing workshop for a group of mums. It was facilitated by Marj Murray of Breathwork Africa and she guided us through a breathing session and taught us some useful techniques. Next week she’s going to teach us breathwork for our children – the ‘spaghetti breath’ and the ‘bunny breath’ among others. It’s something I’m planning on organising more of next year – both for parents and for teachers. I feel very excited and passionate about breathwork because it’s a tool that is simple, effective, free, easy to learn and IN THE MOMENT. In a moment of overwhelm – it is there. In a moment of panic – it is there. In a moment of shock or sadness – it is there. And in a moment of class chaos – it is there.

We need it and our children need it. We need it in our workplaces. They need it as they sit down to write a test or exam. We need it while managing our ‘to do’ lists. They need it while trying to study. We all need to realise that if we can tap into and control our breath, we can control our sympathetic nervous system and calm ourselves down instantly.

So, one technique which I’ve already used (a few times if I’m honest!) is for anxiety. The 4-8 breath. Take a slow breath in through your nose for a count of 4, and then breath out, again through your nose, for a count of 8. The count doesn’t really matter, it’s just that your exhale should be twice the length of your inhale. As I do this, I bring in my mindfulness as well and become aware of how I’m holding my body and where my areas of tension are. I consciously relax my shoulders, my jaw and the rest of my body and I feel myself gently sinking into the chair or ground beneath me. I do about 6 of these breaths and it makes a huge difference to how I’m feeling.

There is now so much research on breathwork which backs up the science that we know. Just google “breath research” and pages of links come up. Breathwork has been shown to decrease anxiety, increase concentration and to give us better coping mechanisms for dealing with anger and stress, along with many other benefits. It is the only way that we can consciously control our “unconscious” or autonomic nervous system (our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems), so we can tell our bodies that we’re safe, secure and so our body can relax. Which helps us to calm down, to think clearly, to learn well, to make good decisions, and to allow our bodies to heal and to thrive.

I love the work of Dr Emma Seppälä, Science Director at Stanford University and Happiness Researcher. She has a great infographic on the scientific benefits of breathing. It’s worth taking a quick look …

But unfortunately we have forgotten how to breathe properly. We’ve grown up in a culture and society that has not valued the power of the breath (until very recently) and our connection to our breath has become very diminished. We need to be taught how to be aware of and to connect to our breath, and then learn the tools so we can control our breath to give us more calm and more joy! This is the work of Breathwork Africa and I hope to also help bring these exciting and easy tools to parents, teachers and children in the future.

And the reason for the frequent 4-8 breaths? Well, we’re doing a major renovation at home, which is taking up a lot of extra bandwidth – physically, mentally and emotionally! I have decided to really immerse in the project, to be present for it and to try and enjoy it as much as I can! And to give myself ‘permission to pause’ from some of the other activities which I usually fill my time with! And so you won’t be hearing from me as much in the coming months but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes and I look forward to communicating more as the building project settles!

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