Are you holding your breath?

26. December 2022

Sometimes it’s not the other people’s fault – I’m sorry to tell you, but one of the reasons why you might be stressed can be the quality of your breath, not the annoying person in the supermarket. ☺️ On a more serious note, there currently are a lot of reasons to hold our breath. Many humans I work with share how overwhelmed they feel and how anxious they are before opening their news app.

We don’t live to constantly be afraid, but to enjoy life and be present. Today I want to share with you a way to find relieve: changing your breath.

Our breath is actually the best mirror of our mental state. Remember the last time you felt anxious, when reading the news or presenting in front of other people? Very likely your breath was shallow. In comparison, when you lie on the couch on a relaxed Saturday afternoon, napping away, how do you breathe? Deeply and slowly.

Take a moment right now to check in with yourself. Notice how you are breathing as you read this. Are your belly and chest moving up and down one after another? Or do you predominantly breathe into your chest or belly? The latter is called “paradoxical breathing” and from a medical perspective it’s “wrong”, meaning not enough oxygen can be transported to your brain. From a performance- or health-point-of-view, “wrong” breathing induces stress, fueling the fight-or-flight-mode. This means just by breathing “wrongly”, you can feel stressed or anxious, independent of any circumstances.

Wrong ways to breathe:
– shallow breathing
– mouth breathing
– imbalanced breath: only breathing into belly or only into chest

If the breath influences our mental and emotional state, the same goes the other way around: when we change our breath, our state changes as well. This might be the cheapest, most accessible, quickest and natural anti-stress medication out there! Correct breathing uses the full capacity of our lungs, distributes oxygen through the cells of our body and relaxes our nervous system to a rest-and-digest-mode. Breath-work can help us perform better or even complement treatments for anxiety, depression or posttraumatic stress disorder. This means independent of the circumstances we can find calm by calming our breath. Sounds too good to be true? Just try it for yourself.

Right ways to breathe:
– long, deep breaths
– nose breathing
– balanced breath: inhaling: stomach and then chest, exhaling: stomach, then chest (or the other way around, but both areas are being filled with air one after the other).

Breath-work is, as the name says: work. To most of us it doesn’t come naturally, but needs practice. I remember one of my first yoga classes – the teacher told me to focus on my breath and breathe “properly”. I went out thinking “this is complete non-sense”. After a while I started to notice the amazing effects of the breath on my state of being. It helped me feel so alive, first during classes and later also during the day, as I became more conscious of using the breath in daily life. Eventually I even tattoo’d the work “atme” (it’s German for breathing) onto my arm.

If you’re intrigued now, but don’t know where to start. Let me share with you some structured techniques to practice proper breathing, incl. its effects. Many of those techniques by the way come from the thousands-years-old tradition of yoga, there called pranayama, but there is really nothing “woo-woo” or esoteric about it.

Structured breath-work practices:
Box-breathing: Inhale for 5 counts, hold the breath for 5, exhale for 5, hold for 5. here’s an adapted version from me –> helps to re-focus and calm the mind
Alternate-nostril breathing: inhale into the left nostril, exhale out of right nostril; inhale right, exhale left. Close the other nostril with your thumb and ring finger. –> effectively calms down the nervous system, helps with sleep
Breath of fire: 20-50 forced exhales while pumping the stomach, let the inhale be reflexive –> activating, like natural coffee

If you are curious and a bit crazy (or living in Berlin like me 😛), there are even practices that can make you feel like being high without taking any substances, like holotrophic breath-work.

For many, breath-work is a good alternative to meditation. It gives the mind something to do and has a direct effect on how we feel. No matter if you need more relaxation, focus or energy in your life, I dare you to try it out. 👏