This is something that has really caught my attention recently. The power and importance of breathing. And of course, it is important because we need to do it to stay alive. And yet it's so taken for granted and under estimated. To the point where most people don't actually breathe properly.
I remember on one of the days at the huge Tony Robbins event UPW, he spent a couple of hours teaching the audience how to breathe properly and guiding through breathing exercises. I was bewildered at the fact that he was teaching such a basic thing at an event costing hundreds of pounds! And yet, most of the audience confirmed by a show of hands that they didn't know the right way to breathe.
I have spent a large portion of my medical profession watching patients breathe. Observing their respirations when I specialised in post-surgical recovery, along with actually assisting ventilation for patients still unconscious from their anaesthetic. I've spent whole days monitoring patients breathing, (amongst many other things!) And so I know well, the normal, healthy patterns of breathing. And have observed what full lung capacity breathing looks like, along with how people breathe when anxious, emotional or in pain. A lot of my recovery nursing was guiding patient's in slowing their breathing down, in order to calm down and feel more relaxed.
Breathwork is fast becoming the new health trend. And there are many variations in practise - from the ancient practice of Pranayama which has been a part of Western yoga for many years already, to more powerful breathwork techniques. More rapid, deep breathing, which leads us to release more carbon dioxide from the body than usual, causing the blood to become more alkaline and retain more oxygen. This alkalotic state can cause numbness, tingling, muscle twitching, or spasms if more severe. Which has been reported to assist people to have deep emotional releases and healing experiences.
From the moment we take our first breath of life, to our very last - our subconscious mind controls our breathing and for most of us, it's an action that goes totally unnoticed. For something so key to our being alive, it astounds me how we mostly pay it no attention at all. And actually, when you research into all the benefits and power of breathing, it holds so much power and potential. Untapped potential that we are only just now starting to pay more attention to in our Western world.
Breathing is living. It is a vital function of life. In yoga, it's referred to as pranayama. Prana is a Sanskrit word that means life force and ayama means extending or stretching. Thus, the word “pranayama” translates to the control of life force. It is also known as the extension of breath. Every cell in our bodies needs oxygen to function properly. So it’s no surprise that research shows that a regular practice of controlled breathing can decrease the effects of stress on the body and increase overall physical and mental health.
Over the 17 or so years I have followed a yoga practise, I have got to know many breathing exercises. Mostly slow, deep breathing which I have experienced noticeable deep relaxation from and enjoyed beautiful sensations of calm and inner peace.
I have also experienced some amazingly powerful breathwork sessions. From the Osho dynamic breathing, Kundalini fire breathing to full on Shamanic deep emotional and trauma releasing work. And I have to say - the experiences I've had with all of these things have been profound. There was a time in my life where I discovered that I too, wasn't breathing properly. I had been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and used to struggle with extreme chronic pain. Thankfully I discovered that yoga helped, and back then, it wasn't popular as it is now. I learnt that I was mostly breathing into my chest, shallow breathing, and tended to hold my breath often - all of which create tension and stress in the body. Along with a build up of toxins, as it's also the role of breathing that gets rid of waste products and toxins from the body.
Just by learning how to breathe properly, using the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, I noticed a big difference in how I felt. (Most people take short, shallow breaths into their chests, which causes neck and shoulder tension).
This concept of the simplest of things having the biggest health impact, came to me again, later on when a friend who had trained with Wim Hof suggested I did some training with him. To assist with the Fibromyalgia symptoms I'd been experiencing again. We spent half a day training on this breathing technique, which consists of full powerful breaths in and releasing out fully. For rounds of 30 and then after a few rounds holding the breath out for as long as possible and then holding the breath in straight after for a shorter period. The crazy part was, I was told, in the breath hold time, I would do press-ups on my fists. I said that was crazy, as I didn't have great upper body strength due to the issue I had. Also I'd never done press-ups with my fists before, let alone whilst holding my breath! But I did it, and I held it for 2 to 3 minutes, with ease. It was massively eye-opening as to what I was able to do. And the final part of the process was cold therapy. Submerging in a bath full of ice for 10 minutes. Using the breathing technique to oxygenate that body and induce a calm, controlled state in order to achieve the task of staying in the ice. On finishing the ice bath, I then shook my body to allow the circulation to return to my extremities, and in doing so experienced the most powerful and beautiful feeling of natural euphoria.
I feel guided to share this now, as we are experiencing this pandemic. With a virus that is attacking the lungs and ability to breathe. And I really believe exercising full lung capacity breathing is so key right now. Along with mindful pranayama to maintain inner balance and a calm state of mind. If we can maintain control over our breathing we can control our emotions and influence our body's healing response. And interestingly, Wim Hof and his technique is becoming more widely known and used through this pandemic, as he has on many occasions shown through scientific studies that it has proven healing capacities in boosting immunity and enhancing lung function.
Breathing is important for 2 reasons:
1 - It supplies our body and its various organs with oxygen, which is vital for our survival.Oxygen cannot be stored and so must be replenished continuously and steadily, so it is important to know how to breathe properly. In addition, it’s the oxygen that allows the brain to work and if the oxygen is scarce the blood must flow faster. Our brain function is not able to operate at optimal and this affects focus, concentration and energy levels.
2 - With our breathing, we also get rid of waste products and toxins from the body. Through our breathing, we bring not only oxygen to our body but also excrete toxic substances that we have created and with bad breathing these can easily stagnate in our bodies and damage our vital functions. Unfortunately, most of us use only a third of the actual breathing capacity and, therefore, we can not breathe well.
Recently I have been working in thoracic surgery, a new speciality for me. And working within anaesthetics, we use specialised equipment to deflate the lung being operated on. It has been so amazing to observe the surgery and the lungs functioning with my own eyes. Still now, 18 years on, I am always so astounded and inspired by seeing the human anatomy at work. For me, we are walking, breathing miracles. And the miraculous functions performed by our bodies are done without any direct input from us too. Which is just phenomenal really.
Seeing the lung begin to operate again, after we release the tube clamp keeping it paralysed for surgery is literally breathtaking! And I have always admired when recovering patient's from their anaesthesia, how the body's natural responses kick in after a measured amount of time, when the carbon dioxide builds to the amount needed to trigger respiration to occur. And seeing that first breath being taken by a patient, who is still unconscious and not even aware.
Dr Wayne Dyer always called this subconscious activity 'the ghost in the machine' The invisible intelligence that drives the miraculous forces of life that we hold within us. Without needing to actively remember. It always sparked curiosity in me, what if we were to consciously, proactively work with this invisible intelligence? To consciously enhance those functions, in positive ways. How powerful would that be, to use both parts of our conscious mind to assist greater functional ability. To then start accessing enhanced states of the body's systems and functions. This is what I believe is higher states of consciousness. And what we are then moving into with such practises as yoga (the true traditional form of yoga), breathing, meditation, mantra's and chanting and so on.
To consciously explore within each physiological system how we can enhance, extend and maximise potential. Because really, when you think of it, right now if we're not doing such practises, are we not just the walking dead?! Only allowing ourselves to function from the body's autonomic system, which it can do in our sleep. In other words, we don't need to do anything for it to continue happening. However, if we were to consciously work with our subconscious functions, imagine the higher potential we'd achieve in all the activities we could enhance by doing that.
By working with the heart, to assist it to work most efficiently - through breathing practises, meditation, connecting with nature, doing things that make our heart feel raised and 'full-filled'. By working with our breathing and the lungs, to consciously breathe fully, using our lungs full capacity, taking time in nature - to breath in clean, pure air and so on...
Our brain, our thoughts. Not just allowing thoughts to take over us, to control us - but to consciously choose empowering thoughts, healthy and affirming thoughts.
By consciously working with our subconscious, we start to live from a super conscious state - which allows us to truly live life fully. Living from our full and highest potential. How amazing would that be? Where external environments or people no longer have a negative effect on us, because we are harnessing our full potential, optimising our body's innate power to actually positively effect the environment around us. Not the other way around, feeling the negative impact of an environment or circumstances on us.
It is this state of living that we need now, where we don't allow situations such as Coronavirus to invoke fear within us. Falling prey to manipulation from powers that be to control our ability to think freely, and stay in harmony with our most natural states of being. Because most people don't know how to return to that natural state and therefore unable to have higher levels of control within themselves, let alone feel any form of control over the external environment.
By following regular practises that activate our higher states of consciousness we are able to exercise more control over our body's natural responses to environmental change. It is therefore crucial right now to follow even the basic practises regularly in order to develop this inner strength, focused state of mind and highest potential.
If you want to know more about the different practices and methods I have shared about in this article, including some recommended practitioners, therapists and teachers, follow me on my social media and Youtube channel as I will be sharing such practises over the next few weeks. With research and insights into each, along with Youtube tutorials guiding how to implement these into your daily life.
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I hope you find this insightful and inspiring. Have fun exploring into this miraculous inner world that you hold within you!