Part of the work I do at Mind on Music is encouraging people to enhance their well-being with different exercises they can do themselves such as singing for health techniques. Before we even start to make a sound though, one of the simplest yet most effective (and probably my favourite) is working with our breath.
Across the world in different cultures, focusing on our breath is held as highly important. In Hindu culture, and so in yoga, the breath is called Prana and the focus on it- Pranayama. A lot of the exercises I do with the groups I work with are inspired by and based on yogic traditions. I am not a trained yoga teacher and do not claim to be able to teach yoga. However, we all learn from our daily lives and because I do so much yoga, I incorporate the things I’m inspired by along the way into my self-practice and also into the activities I bring to the groups.
One of the best methods of breathing work I’ve found is simply to count our in and out breaths, aiming to increase the length of time we can breath in and then exhale for.
Start with four beats in and four out, with a little pause in between and gradually increase this as you feel ready to. This will slow the breath down, in turn slowing your heart rate and bringing you into a calmer, more peaceful feeling. This is a very old and well-known way of stilling ourselves, yet in our busy lives we forget even how to breathe properly!
This way of breathing has us concentrate so that we can also begin to breathe fully, as many of us live taking in shallow, half-breaths. To breathe deeply, expand your whole abdomen so that your diaphragm (the muscle just at the base of our lungs) contracts and pushes your stomach forward.
It can take some time to strengthen our diaphragms as it is a muscle so just like we wouldn’t expect to lift heavy weight immediately, it can be an ongoing process before we can breathe in this way. But by focusing on it for a few minutes each day, this will be a great start towards making your respiratory system stronger and more resistant to illness, so hopefully avoiding the many colds that go round!
Breathing techniques are great for those with Asthma, COPD, and other cardiovascular problems too. They can also be very helpful for those with chronic pain as the slowing of heart rate can reduce pain as well as the attention being diverted for a time too.
Give the above technique a go this evening and see how you feel. You might want to go out in nature or create a healing space in your home with your favourite, relaxing things around you such as having a bath or a natural candle. That said though, you need no special equipment, only the space that you currently occupy and you don’t even need a quiet room, though to begin with you may prefer to be alone.
I would just say that if you do have any illness, please consult your doctor if you feel the need to do so before trying anything new and if you begin to feel dizzy or out of breath whilst undertaking the work, then do take a break or stop.
- Start with an in-breath for four counts, pause then an exhalation for four beats also.
- Build this up slowly, adding a beat at a time until you feel you’ve reached your limit. With regular attention, you’ll notice this number rise over time!
- To breathe fully, expand your stomach as you breathe so you’re using your diaphragm. Again, in time this will be easier!
- You can begin this practice anywhere, but either outside in nature, or in a healing space you create can be extra special.
Thank you for reading, I’ll be sharing more techniques very soon so please do pop back!