There is breathing - and there is Breathing, with a capital B: prana-inspired, open hearted, full body breathing that creates wave like spinal moments which feel juicy and alive. It is this full-body breathing that I am after in my own practice, and further out into my own life. Breath inspires us, literally, and takes us out of the murky lethargy that seems to land in our bodies over the winter months.
It also allows us to move with fluidity and grace, and enlivens our very beings as it carries breath-infused prana to places of stagnation and tension.
However, I’ve discovered that often our breath is the exact opposite of this – shallow, constricted, anxiety making half-breaths is more often our lot, particularly if we are leading busy, demanding lives.
Because the core of our beings are often so rigidly held and often, in the struggle to get in a deeper breath, we clench down our jaws , tighten our shoulders, and try to force our way into a full, enlivening breath.
What was happening instead is that we ended up layering faulty breath patterns on top of our pranayama breathing, causing even more tightness than before. Now we were working with a double load of tension!
What we needed to do was to learn to relax the stomach and chest muscles, so that the diaphragm can move fully and the breath can arrive in like a slow wave, undulating the spine on the inhale and exhale.
Leslie Kaminoff has a beautiful turn of phrase reminding us of this.
This really resonated with me , and following his advice the approach I now take towards full body breathing is to first take off the layers of tension that are causing shallow breathing, then introduce new patterns of breathing that are both sustainable and enlivening.
In my search for ways that could allow this ‘undoing’ that Kaminoff talks of , I really was a bit huffed to find out that as wonderful and powerful as Yoga is it didn’t always allow full deep breathing and the’ unlayering’ of tension to be sustained long-term ,and I wondered why.
Yoga certainly helped me in releasing tons of tension, but often it felt temporary, and I needed to return to my mat , again and again. I wanted more than temporary. And I wanted it to be easy, and effortless.
I turned to other practices which I knew were known for releasing chronic held tensions, like Somatic Movement, Continuum, and Feldenkrais to see what they could offer, Somatic Movement gave me a lot of answers, and thawed out a frozen shoulder problem that my Yoga practice was unable to shift.
In terms of breathing, Somatic Movement has a powerful effect in resetting the muscles of anxiety in our bellies and chest and our nervous systems. These slow, mindful movements release sluggish breathing patterns, so that our whole bodies get washed with prana-filled enlivening breath.
When we unlayer in this way, taking off our suits of protective armour, not only does our breath get naturally deeper, but our mood lightens, and we feel ready to meet the world with a pep in our step.
For me, this whole body breathing feels much more like the breath I was born with, and I feel content in knowing that I haven’t efforted my way into letting go, but rather have returned to what is my natural, organic flow of lovely breath.
If you would like to experience for yourself what this might feel like in your own body, I will be running an afternoon workshop in Yoga Dublin, Ranelagh, on Sunday, September 25th at 2pm
BOOK DEIRDRE'S "TAKE A DEEP BREATH" WORKSHOP NOW