Trouble-Shooting Your Breathing Practice
If you're spending your time anything like I'm spending my time right now, you're probably spending a good amount of it on social media. And you may have noticed that people are sharing a lot of posts about breathing; posts that remind us to take a deep breath, posts that help us time our breath, posts that offer different breathing patterns and practices that promote grounding and relaxation.
And that's awesome!
Getting in touch with our breath is a great way to get back in touch with ourselves amidst chaos and uncertainty. There are tons of evidence-based breathing practices out there - from ancient practices, like yoga and internal martial arts, to specific breathing patterns developed more recently - that can help us relax and release the tension we're probably all holding right now.
But it's important to keep in mind that different breathing practices are intended to affect us in different ways, and that our current breathing habits and individual needs related to breath can vary greatly. Not every method of breathwork is equally useful for all of us. And that's ok.
If you want to use breathing techniques to find a bit of peace during this chaotic time, but aren't getting the results you expect, here are some things to consider:
Can you breathe through your nose?
Nasal breathing has a whole host of benefits. When it comes to breathing for relaxation, nasal breathing can help us slow our breath cycle and engage in a diaphragmatic breath. Some breathwork practices specify an oral breath, but if it's not specified, try keeping your breaths nasal.
(If you can't breathe through your nose - or if you can, but it's super uncomfortable - that may be a sign of airway obstruction and should be discussed with your doctor.)
Are you breathing out?
Some breathing practices emphasize slow, deep breaths (because they are super important), but don't give much guidance on the exhale. That can leave us with the impression that as long as we're getting the coordination right on the inhale, we're good to go. The inhale, though, is just one part of a breath cycle. Making sure we are slowing and extending our exhale is just as important as getting a slow, deep breath in. When in doubt, let your exhale extend to 1.5-2x longer than your inhale to keep your breath cycle balanced.
Can you let yourself pause?
On a broader scale, breathing practices are all about letting yourself pause from your daily life. On a smaller scale you can also literally pause for a moment between breath cycles. At rest it's normal to pause between the end of an exhale and the next inhale. This can hold true for breathwork as well. While some techniques do include a tolerable feeling of air hunger, breathing patterns should feel comfortable and sustainable enough that you don't need to gasp in a big breath right away at the end of each cycle.
Are you listening to your body?
If the point of your breathing practice is to feel grounded and in touch with yourself, but you're so focused on doing the breathing practice "right" that you're missing out on what your body is telling you, then the exercise isn't serving it's purpose for you in that moment.
Our everyday breathing habits, our physical and mental health, our bodies' needs all influence what we get out of a breathwork practice. If a breathing pattern designed for relaxation feels stressful, if a breathing pattern designed to be energizing feels exhausting, if your instincts are telling you that your breathing practice is doing more harm than good, that particular exercise or practice may not be the right one for you - at least for the time being.