Our ability to breathe is remarkable; I know I’m stating the obvious, but we do it without thinking.
We have the capacity to change our breathing consciously by – gasping or sighing for instance, but we can also affect it subconsciously depending on how we are feeling. Mood is inextricably linked to breath.
Last week, I mentioned on an Instagram post that life has been a little up and down of late. I tend to not let stress get to me, and actually I think I am pretty effective at dealing with a high baseline of stress.
But I know in myself when I am feeding off it in a positive way and when I am not – and I haven’t been lately so I knew I had to do something.
I’m sure like me you have daily practices that punctuate your day, that are good for your general wellbeing. Some people run or go for power walks, others like me start their day with meditation. I also exercise about 4-5 times a week – and of course I sing most days.
But over the last month or so these “good practices” haven’t been as effective as normal. I am doing them but they are not keeping me as balanced as I would like and the more I noticed I wasn’t feeling refreshed after mediating, or I wasn’t using my voice in the way that I wanted, the more annoyed I was getting with myself.
Then last week I realised, it wasn’t what I was doing that was failing me – it was how I was doing it – and specifically how I was breathing.
When I look to my Indian background, most of my extended family practises some sort of yoga. My mother has been doing it since she was at school and now in her 80s, it is still how she starts her day.
Yoga teachers (yogis) have known of the benefits of mindful breathing for centuries. And over the years, scientific research has corroborated these benefits. Paying attention to how we breathe is one of the most effective tools to lower stress levels and improve our mood.
I pride myself on understanding the mechanics and benefits of breathing properly, especially because good breath control is fundamental in singing.
But, and this may sound silly, I have remembered that it is not enough to just breathe; the rate at which we breathe is vital. It is related to the autonomic nervous system which controls our bodies’ sympathetic response (which is the fight or flight thing) and parasympathetic response, which is our rest and restore function, which feeds into our heart rate and respiration, which go up or down depending on whether we are relaxed or stressed or somewhere in between.
Over the last week I have been taking the time to really tap into my breath. There is something beautiful about concentrating on stillness, and tuning into breathing.
I have reminded myself that like so many things, it is not enough to just go through the motions. Consciously breathing is helping me replenish my energy, strengthen my “good practices” and make me feel like I have a solid foundation from which I can tackle the stresses that may come my way.
So now I have a new daily practice – as soon as I wake up (or whenever I need to) I stop and focus in on my breath – soft and slow breaths to start that become deeper and lower the longer I concentrate. And though I am pretty sure I knew this, I am remembering that deep, low abdominal breathing is truly transformative.