In many embodied practices, the breath is central to the practice. This week, we explore the importance of the breath for our wellbeing as well as in practice, alongside ways in which we can begin to breathe more fully in our everyday lives.
The Importance and Role of the Breath
Breath work is significant for a number of reasons. Conscious breath work allows us to work on releasing old habits and existing patterns and instead open the way towards creating new patterns which are healthier and more supportive for our daily lives. Additionally, by actively engaging the breath we activate the body. This allows us to re-energise and re-invigorate our bodies, as well as our mental approaches and states.
Focused work on the breath can support us in developing greater awareness of our bodies and our selves. It can be a simple, yet highly effective way to reduce stress and anxiety and to bring more balance to our selves and our wellbeing. Furthermore, when we engage in breathing practices and breath work, we are working on altering our state of consciousness, including developing a state of alertness and allowing ourselves to become more present to each given moment.
Ultimately, regular breath work provides us with the opportunity to create and develop a set of skills which can support us to develop more positive and effective responses to the challenges we face in our lives.
How to Begin to Breathe
Breath work aims to bring this most basic human function to the forefront of our consciousness. The more you actively engage with breathing practices, the more it will become second nature to you and become a tool which you can rely upon and utilise in daily life in a range of situations.
The first step of breath work is simply to begin to notice your breath. Don’t attempt to change or influence it, but simply become aware of it. Begin to take deeper breaths, allowing your focus to remain inwards on your breath as you do so. Try to inhale into all parts of your body, making sure your breath reaches all the extremities before you begin the exhalation. Similarly, take your time when exhaling. Fight the urge to simply push out all the air. Instead, breathe out slowly and with control.
It’s important to remember that the inhalation is as important as the exhalation. The inhalation allows you to bring renewed energy and life into your body, whilst the exhalation helps you to remove any excess tension, stress or negativity. If practicing outdoors, it can be helpful to visualise the inhalation connecting you to the air around you and the exhalation as an expression of surrender and connection to the earth.
Equally important is to acknowledge and note the moment between breaths. Allow yourself to pause between each breath and as your breath shifts from inhalation to exhalation.
The Breath in Practice
Many practices utilise the breath. In some cases, the breath may the be stimulus for a new pose or movement to begin. It may be used to shift focus, change direction or alter intentions during a piece of movement improvisation or exploration.
Similarly, the breath can be used to create pause and stillness. As you move into a pose, for example, the breath can be used to help you sustain or to sink deeper into it. Similarly, the breath, in particular the exhalation, can be used as a tool to release tension within specific areas of the body. Moreover, breath work also provides the opportunity to re-ground and reconnect with nature and the earth as you breathe out.
Through the setting of intentions, the breath can be a powerful tool, giving meaning to otherwise routine movements and allowing the psycho-physical to link to one another. Similarly, the breath also provides you with the tools to fully inhabit each moment, even if that moment is simply one of stillness.
Fundamentally, the breath provides practitioners with the tools and ability to be open, present and active, thereby enhancing the quality of their experience, as well as increasing their presence in the act of doing.
This week, we invite you to create some time to engage in active breathing. If you are able to, try to set aside some time each day. Simply taking 5 minutes every day can be very effective in the long-term.
Some people find that practicing breath work first thing in the morning is particularly effective for setting a positive intention and start to the day. Others prefer to use breath work to close the day, providing them with an opportunity to reflect on the day and cast aside any stresses which may have been accumulated. The key is to find a time which works for you. If possible, we also invite you to do the breath work outdoors.
Above all, we hope you enjoy your breathing practice and the discoveries you may make along the way!