This breath thing…. I found it really hard to start with. Just trying to notice my breath made me feel uncomfortable. I had the sensation that I didn’t have enough air. There was a tightness, a resistance. Strange that this attention to something my body was doing anyway should bring such dis-ease. As I continued with the practice, it gradually became easier. There was less struggle. I started to feel that my body appreciated this watching, observing. The being present, being in the moment, the pause….


Once I was able to sit comfortably with my breath, I started to notice the different parts of it. They felt different. The inhale feels energising, spacious, alive, almost excited and alert. The exhale feels grounding and heavy. There is a sense of release, of softening, calm. And then there are the pauses… The tiny moments of nothingness at the end of the inhale before the exhale starts and at the end of the inhale before the exhale starts. I found that they too were different. The feelings and sensations I found in them were different. Sometimes, I want to sit in the pause at the end of the exhale forever, sinking and being.


I now know that we are governed by our nervous systems. That as we inhale our sympathetic nervous system is more dominant and as we exhale it is our parasympathetic that takes over. This, of course, is greatly simplified (our bodies are mind-blowingly intricate and complex) but it helps to explain the sensations I tap into when I bring attention to my breath.


The other wonderful thing about the breath is that if your awareness sits with it, you are necessarily in the moment. The breath is happening right now. Paying attention to it brings you into the present and if you are in the present, you can’t be anywhere else. You can’t worry about the future or feel pants about the past if you are truly in the present. I find it a calm place. A place of gratitude and acceptance. Being with the breath has also helped to train my mind. It has allowed me to sit with uncomfortable things and not to react. Often feelings diminish and lose their power when you have paused for a while. I find that the space gives clarity.


There are a staggering array of different types of breath meditations and breath work practices. The breath is a way of communicating with our nervous systems, so it can be an incredibly useful tool. If you are stressed or anxious, having trouble sleeping or feeling out of balance in any way, meditation and breath work could really help. Fundamentally, if we breathe like we are calm, our nervous systems think we are safe. If the nervous system is not concerned for our well-being, it will stop releasing adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline etc – the chemicals and neurotransmitters that propel us into action and take us away from danger. (These are the same substances that make us feel anxious and stressed).


For me, breath work practice has been incredibly helpful. It is calming, which is obviously great but it does more… Breathing well means that your diaphragm moves properly. Your diaphragm is so much more than your principle breathing muscle. It massages your organs, benefitting your digestive system and therefore immune response. It creates fluidity and space – internal movement is so important. Things need to be able to move about, that is how healing takes place. As the diaphragm connects with your nervous system (via the vagus nerve) and communicates with your body, it is also a way of controlling some of your autonomic nervous system responses.


I highly recommend a spot of focused breathing. It takes practice and time but it is a wonderful way to talk to your body and find clarity and calm in your mind. I always include breath awareness in my classes. Often there is breath practice before my Yoga Nidra class on Tuesday evenings…. Come and play!


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