The Importance of Breath

Have you ever paid attention to the way you breathe?

When we exercise vigorously our breath becomes more obvious, but what about when we are stressed, happy, calm, or just going about our day? When we are stressed we probably don't pay much attention to our breath or our thoughts. Perhaps we may even believe we are calm when in fact we are chronically stressed and just haven't noticed because it has become normal for us. Do you breathe in a shallow manner in your upper chest? Is your breath even, like a nice wave on a graph when at rest? The breath will give us the answers.

We may need to re-learn how to breathe.

Chronic stress actually changes your breathing patterns and thoughts, so you develop dysfunctional and inefficient breathing rhythms and thought patterns. Chronic stress also changes the brain. Specifically, it shrinks the hippocampus which is required for memory functions. Have you ever noticed how you forget things more easily in times of stress? In addition, your distress tolerance levels go down, so you have a lower threshold for dealing with stressful situations. Furthermore, stress affects our hormonal system. Our bodies secrete excess cortisol, which is the chemical responisble for helping us in times of danger. This chemical spikes blood sugar and adrenaline to provide the energy to fight or flight. When such hormones are chronically secreted and not metabolized as intended we become lethargic, irritable and in extreme cases can lead to adrenal fatigue, increased belly fat, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and mood disorders.

So what is one of the simplest things one can do to reduce stress and calm the mind?

Photo by Amelia Barklid on Unsplash

The best place to start is with Ujjayi Breath (pronounced oo-jai), an ancient yogic breathing technique, meaning "victorious breath" or "oceanic breath".

Give it a try right now: first, seal your lips and start to breathe in and out through your nose. Then, take an inhalation through your nose that is slightly deeper than normal. Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat. Prolonging the exhale is key. This creates an internal heat and increases the amount of oxygen in the blood. Practicing this technique especially while doing yoga, or any form of exercise gives us complete control of the breath and therefore our nervous system. We can switch from a stressed sympathetic state to a more calming and rejuvenating parasympathetic state. It allows us to maintain greater control of our bodies during movement, as well as deeper states of focus and concentration. Ujjayi breathing will also activate our deeper core musculature enabling it to stay contracted when needed.

Try practicing Ujjayi by inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds, then progress to inhaling for 5 and exhaling for 7, 8 and 9 seconds. You can also increase the inhale beyond 5 seconds once your lungs, your intercostal muscles between the ribs, and your diaphragm can accomodate larger breaths (with practice!).

Billy's Physiotherapy, Yoga Therapy & Breathwork

While I manually treat my clients as a Physiotherapist/Yoga Therapist at Squamish Integrated Health, I teach my clients how to breathe at the same time. Proper breathing is a key factor in achieving lasting health. I use therapeutic yoga practices and breathwork along with my knowledge as a physiotherapist to restore alignment, pain-free joint movement and vital energy flow (circulation). I integrate mindfulness practices to set the stage for meditation in session or in guided classes.

Be prepared for an active, educational treatment session or class to empower you towards physical, mental and emotional freedom.

Billy is available Tuesday through Friday for private appointments. He offers guided meditation classes and Integrated Breathing & Mobility classes.




Billy Walker-Wavell

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