‘Take a Deep Breath ‘ Masterclass

by guest blogger and teacher Deirdre O'Connor

Deirdre O'Connor

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.
Wanting to teach my students and clients what breathing with a capital B felt like, I took to teaching pranayama breathing techniques. This didn’t last long as though I have found these practices to be energizing at times, I have stopped teaching them to my students for quite some years - and here’s why:

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.

Of course it just doesn’t work, and no matter how much I encouraged them not to do this, they just couldn’t find a way into not trying so hard! 

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.
He say’s:

"Yoga is not about doing the poses,
But rather undoing what’s in the way of the poses"

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.


Somatic Movement taught me that habituated patterns of holding and tension, are caused by muscles that have forgotten, yes, forgotten how to relax. Meaning they are no longer under our conscious control, and so no matter how much we try to relax them we can’t. This is called Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA). So, no matter what type of Yoga you are doing if you have SMA (and we all do somewhere in our bodies) you will continually come up against a block which needs continuous attention. Somatic Movement undid those blocks for me, so that not only was I able to breathe deeper, but my Yoga practice deepened and I let go in places I wasn’t able to previously.

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.

Layered over with Body Rolling, a powerful self-therapeutic technique, using our own body weight on a small ball, rolling our bodies out, muscle by muscle, joint by joint. The result is a total decompression of the body creating more inside space, allowing our ribs to expand and our wings to take flight!

body rolling

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 



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