What comes to mind when you think of connecting to your breath? A person sitting on a meditation cushion in lotus position? A yogi holding a pose? Maybe even an opera singer preparing to sing an aria.
Connecting to your breath can be all of these things.
First of all, let’s explore the mechanics of breathing. The good news is that if you’re alive, you’re breathing! Perhaps not as deeply or fully as you could be, but we all have the capability to do so. What separates “deep” from “shallow” breathing is a band of muscle located under your sternum called the diaphragm. You may have heard the term “belly breath”; technically, your stomach doesn’t have anything to do with your breathing. Your diaphragm pushes down, creating a vacuum which fills your lungs with life giving air. However, if your abdomen is tight or sucked in, it restricts the movement of the diaphragm, preventing you from taking a deep breath. So, loosening up your abs and core is the first step towards deepening your breath.
When you breath this way, it may seem like you’re “letting it all hang out”. However, by allowing your belly to expand and create space for the movement of the diaphragm, you are actually activating your transverse abdominis muscle, which can help stabilize your core in the long run. Clenching your abdominal muscles all the time will negatively affect your respiration by forcing your chest to do all the work. Learning to take deep breaths can improve your performance in almost every area.
Sometimes the most complicated problems have the simplest solutions. Small changes can have a profound impact on your life. I know people who have set an hourly alarm to remind themselves to take deep, diaphragmatic breaths during the day in an effort to combat stress.
In my experience, connecting to your breath isn’t always this zen, relaxing experience. Being with your breath grounds you in the present moment, which means that you can’t run from yourself. So be prepared for emotions to come up. But also be prepared for solutions. We live in a world where we have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, which is amazing, but sometimes that means that we ignore our own inner guidance amongst all the chatter. Taking a few moments in silence to be with nothing but yourself and your breath can allow you to connect with your own intuitive wisdom.
If you are a public speaker, or just a person who seeks to be heard, supporting your voice with your breath can help you to project and be more resonant. Sometimes, speaking louder isn’t the way to get your point across. Using your breath as a tool to support your voice can make you seem more grounded and make your voice sound clearer.
An exercise to connect with your breath is to simply sit in a cross-legged position. You can sit on a yoga block or firm pillow if your lower back starts to bug you. Place one hand on your heart and one on your belly. Take a second to feel how comforting this is. Sit up nice and tall while relaxing your shoulders, jaw and arms. Now take in a deep breath, allowing your belly to relax while keeping your chest as still as possible. Repeat for a few cycles of breath, until you get into a gentle rhythm. You can stay for as long as you like; just a few breaths to centre yourself, or five to ten minutes for a longer meditation. This can be done virtually anywhere- walking down the street, in your car, at work, in the washroom. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to just take moments like those. If you’re into New Year’s resolutions, consider making a daily habit of connecting to your breath as one of them. Happy breathing ❤