Proper breathing clears away stress and tension, quiets the mind, increases internal energy and vitality, boosts metabolism and unifies mind, spirit and body.
We usually breathe without any thought, mostly taking this life-sustaining process for granted. This is because no one teaches us about breathing as we grow up. This also is why most of us breathe incorrectly.
The good news is all that is needed to correct an incorrect breathing pattern is to take the time to focus on your breathing. As a result, you might be able to change your energy, emotions and life.
We breathe anywhere between 17,000 to 30,000 times a day and take in, on average, about 4,500 gallons of air—25 times that amount during exercise. Now can you see the importance of the breath?
No wonder our breathing profoundly influences our mind, body and overall health.
What Kind of Breather Are You?
When looking at your breathing patterns, try to notice how much of the diaphragm you use and how much oxygen you take in. Are you allowing your diaphragm to expand fully in order to bring in enough oxygen to feed your body?
There are three types of breathers—nasal, chest and belly.
Nasal breathers are breathing only in their nasal cavity, not using the diaphragm to breathe, but instead leaving this organ to sit stagnant. The result is a lack of oxygen flow throughout the body.
Chest breathers are breathing only into their chest, using a slight portion of the diaphragm to breathe. This type of breathing brings in some oxygen, but still not enough.
Belly breathers are breathing into their bellies and using the full diaphragm to breathe as nature intended. They bring in enough oxygen to feed the body, mind and spirit.
You can be one of these types of breathers—or a combination of all three—at times; however, to gain the most life-force energy, it is best to be a belly breather all the time.
Belly breathing allows you to develop a balanced breathing rhythm at a slow, smooth pace. It keeps you present and helps you feel calm and peaceful.
Determine Your Breathing Type
To determine what type of breather you are, lie supine and put your hands on your belly, then take a few normal breaths.
If your belly rises (expands or becomes full) as you inhale and falls as you exhale, you are a belly breather.
If your chest rises and falls, you are breathing into your chest and need to work on bringing each breath down to the bottom of the belly and diaphragm.
If neither the belly nor the chest rise and fall, you are breathing from your nasal cavity and really need to start working on bringing the breath down through the diaphragm.
The Massage-Breath Connection
Breathing can also help in the healing process of the body. Getting a massage and working with a massage therapist who uses breathwork can help you learn how to breathe into your tension spots to release old emotions, stress and discomfort.
“If I am working a specific trigger point and I have the client breathe into the area as I am setting my intention along with her breath and intention, sometimes this will assist the muscles in the letting-go process,” says massage therapist Lori Yee. Clients also can find it easier to tolerate deeper work if they breathe into it as the therapist slowly works on the tension spot.
Therapists who use breathwork not only help in healing from the outside-in, but also can take the therapy to a higher level—that which comes from inside-out.
Using the breath also helps if a client is having a hard time relaxing. Maybe it’s her first time getting a massage, or she has a lot of tension in her body. Having the client take in slow, deep breaths from the belly will bring her to a deeper place of relaxation.
This empowers the client with a tool—focused breath—to help her connect back to the wisdom of her body.
The breath can be a powerful tool to encourage the client’s own inner experience and bring him back to sensing what is going on in his own body. The breath is a way back to checking in with what is going on inside us.
Follow the Body
Massage therapist Jeffery Compton likes to invite his clients to reconnect with their own experience by asking them to “breathe gently and deeply, not to force but to follow the body.”
He explains the breath cycle is a representation of the life cycle, in that each inhale and exhale is an inspiration and expiration. Each inhale is a new beginning, with a space present before we exhale as the natural ending of the cycle.
With a full exhale, we can find the stillness, the letting go and the ridding of waste products. Compton explains in this society we are focused mostly on the inhale and not on the stillness of the exhale, of the letting go. Instead, we try to hold on tightly to life, to control it, which in some cases will bring on anxiety.
Trusting in the wisdom of the body and letting go of the control of the breath can be part of the experience when receiving massage.
Other helpful ways to get some breathwork practice are with such exercises as yoga, Pilates and Qigong, which actively utilize the breath.
By using physical movement along with the breath, we gain both internal and external benefits. We maximize the effect of each movement of the spinal column, the tissues and organs of the body.
Beyond the Body
Breathing is not just a physical process; it is also closely connected to the functioning of the mind and emotions. Notice when you get upset, agitated, depressed—or when you get overly excited or happy—how your breathing patterns change.
When breathing rhythms change, your state of mind and emotions are affected. If you regulate your breathing patterns, your thoughts and emotions will become stabilized as well, allowing a more relaxed and at-ease body and mind. The breath is what will bring you back into balance.
Whether you practice breathing while receiving—or giving—bodywork, while moving and exercising, or while sitting still, improving your knowledge of breathing is the most powerful tool you have.
Start to practice belly breathing in everything you do, and see how your life starts to flow with your breath.
About the Author
Melissa A. Stone, C.M.T., is a fitness professional, owner of Balance Studio Spa in Felton, California, and author of The Key To Life is … Balance.
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