Another year approaches. 2018. The past decade has gone quickly.
What lessons did I learn during 2017? Taking time out at least twice a day to practise breathing exercises. As soon as I neglected the exercises, my stress levels rose and kept on rising.
The exercises should be simple. Slow and easy breathing moving towards a longer exhale. Breath counting. Pursed lips breathing. Ocean breath. Coherent breathing (equal length inhales and exhales) at five or six breaths per minute.
Ease. Regular practice, five to ten minutes, twice a day. People can choose any of the exercises or combine. There are no rules – although people with medical conditions will need to seek advice on contraindications (usually this applies to breath holding or to more energetic breathing techniques not listed above).
For years, I had no interest in yoga.
Then, around four and a half years ago, I gave up smoking. Shortly after, I heard about abdominal breathing and practised it on and off.
More recently, I learnt about Coherent Breathing, a breathing technique that centres around a person taking equal breaths (inhale, exhale) at around 6 or 5 breaths a minute, ideally 5. About a month later, I started Resistance Breathing (sometimes known as Ocean Breath).
Finally, three weeks ago, I began practising simple yoga moves.
Three weeks on, I’ve noticed a substantial improvement in lower back stiffness, left shoulder stiffness and a throbbing Achilles Tendon.
I look forward to learning new postures and movements and seeing further improvements in health.
I’ve found little time to blog recently. Life always presents demands. Personal time. Studies. Work. Creative writing. Playing the piano.
And the Christmas period, of course.
Recently, I read The Healing Power of the Breath by Dr Richard Brown, a psychiatrist. The book explores the power of the correct breathing and how certain exercises can help people suffering with severe conditions, such as PTSD. The key to the exercises seems to like in Coherent Breathing – a technique intended to bring breathing and heart rate into sync, thereby improving the Heart Rate Variability (quite heady stuff). The book also comes with a CD – crucial, in my opinion.
Normally sceptical of self-help books, I found this one interesting and uplifting. The author, along with his co-author, writes sensitively, explaining the basic scientific principles when necessary. The authors supply the keys for improved health, mentally and physically – without the need to buy anything further.
Well worth a read.
Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the Coherent Breathing exercise, along with a special humming breath technique I’ve adapted. Hopefully, these will keep me relaxed during the stresses of the coming week.
I’ve reached that point again – polishing a novel, sending it out and waiting to hear the outcome. In the meantime, I’m trying to relax. By that, I mean paying close attention to my breathing, slowing it, allowing the breath to take on its own natural rhythm.
I’ve read lots about it. Apparently, the improved breathing rate has a wide range of positive effects on a person’s health and nervous system. There are many articles on the internet and in popular magazines, but I do wonder whether the reader needs to take more care and critically evaluate some of the claims. For instance – how safe is it for the average person to alter their breathing rate without any supervision or professional advice? Can it, in fact, do more harm than good? I always hunt for the science behind the breathing technique – and if I can’t find any science to back up the claims, I give the technique a miss.
At the moment, I’m experimenting with Coherent Breathing – a technique that involves the person breathing in through the nose for six seconds, then out for the same duration, creating a sense of balance or symmetry.
Personally, I’ve found simple breathing techniques beneficial – for example, four in, eight out. Obviously, the breather would need to build up to the longer exhalations/pauses; plus she or he would have to avoid air hunger at all costs, as that would defeat the object of the exercise. So, always read the science and make sure the breathing technique will not exacerbate an existing medical condition (crucial!) – and enjoy.