Surely breathing is just this thing we do naturally without having to think about it, how else would we be able to stay alive? Haven’t we enough things to think about than having to add breathing to the list I hear you say quite rightly ;-).
Well, through the years I’ve had to learn “the hard way” that yes, breathing is what we do naturally to stay alive, but “good” or “bad” breathing can most certainly have a big impact on our well-being either way. I’ve had to deal with a few, sometimes chronic, health issues through the years and apart from traditional medicine I like to take a more holistic and natural view of things if at all possible. I would like to think that I know a little bit about natural healing and physical health as I have always loved learning about different methods and traditions. But there are always things that even though they are literally in front of my nose, take me by surprise.
A few years ago one of the books I was reading to learn more about our bodies’ self healing abilities (which was written by a graduate of Harvard Medical School and a practicing doctor) described a conversation with a very successful Osteopath in which he was asked the question of what was the secret to a healthy life, to which the very experienced and successful practitioner simply answered: good breathing! In a fantastic article I read some time ago, the reader was instructed to consciously observe their breathing. This was attending to our normal “everyday breathing” rather than focusing on our breath as part of a meditation or relaxation technique, which I would have been familiar with. I remember being curious but skeptical, because I just presumed at the time that our breathing just naturally occurs the way it should in normal circumstances ie when we’re in a “normal” state of mind (whatever that may be!!). Well I was wrong! I was both surprised and shocked to discover that I myself had developed quite an unhealthy pattern of slowing down and holding my breath frequently, without me ever noticing this before. Even though I had been practicing mindfulness for a while and with that had experience with breathing exercises and the mindfulness of breath, I hadn’t paid any attention to my naturally occurring breath and the restrictive pattern that had developed. This realisation brought me back to my childhood and my first encounters with the healing benefits of “good breathing”:
I was a very anxious child going to primary school, especially before maths lessons, tests, mass or if we had to recite a poem by heart for example. I would have tummy aches and a nauseous feeling nearly every day. My parents brought me to the doctor but there was nothing physically wrong with me which they had already suspected. My mum has always been into alternative healing methods and in Germany it is quite normal that medical professionals include natural therapies such as homeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy, meditation or herbalism into their practice.
From a young age I remember Mum making different teas, tinctures, creams and poultices for minor sicknesses and ailments, which usually worked perfectly well. The only thing though that made a difference to my nausea was… good breathing. Mum taught me a breathing technique that I still use today: I was to breathe in slowly and deeply through my nose and then exhale slowly and as extended as possible through my mouth without getting under pressure. Anytime the dreaded feeling would emerge I would practice my exercises and without fail my nausea would disappear and because I now knew I had a reliable remedy, my anxiety decreased too.
Whenever any of us children would get stressed or annoyed my Mum would remind us to “breathe”, which we always found hilarious, what else were we going to do, NOT breathe?? “Delightfully” innocent and “ignorant” children/adolescents we were, but in the end we would follow Mum’s advice and do our breathing exercises if we got anxious or worried as we knew it would work. Before ever being introduced to mindfulness or meditation, this simple breathing exercise most certainly got me through many exams, tests and interviews much easier.
Fast forward about 15-20 years to my first meditation retreat and here we were doing Mum’s breathing exercises and funnily enough as it was a very mixed group for beginners, there was quite a bit of sniggering initially. Just like when we were kids this soon subsided as participants were able to tune into the breath and out of their heads and being able to enjoy a feeling of calming their hearts and minds.
Coming back to the importance of regularly attending to our “natural breathing patterns” it seems that it is worth our while to check in ever so often, observing our breathing and if necessary pay some more attention to “good breathing”. As I experienced myself it is very easy for unhealthy breathing habits to sneak in often caused by stress or anxiety, which seems to be an issue that many of us are experiencing more and more often. If we can identify that we have adopted unhealthy breathing habits and pay more attention to our breathing, it will definitely be a tool that can help greatly to improve our well-being.
For more information on mindful parenting and education and a practical everyday approach that can be applied by anybody and tailored to your individual circumstances take a look at my new book “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a revolution”, a handbook for parents and educators to promote positive change based on the principles of mindfulness.
Thanks so much for your interest and support! 😉 Alex
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