STOP PRESS ***
Wed – Thu, 3-4 March 2016, London. See below
I read statistics recently that suggest that I’ve taken 550 million breaths in my life so far. You’d think I might be pretty good at it by now! But breathing is one of those activities that is regulated by the unconscious part of our brain; we just do it, and don’t tend to get better at it – unless we begin to pay it conscious attention.
We are our breath. When we are at ease, our breathing is full and effective. When we are delighted, we fill our lungs with fresh energised air. When we are moved, our breath is affected by our emotion. When we are amazed, we breathe in suddenly and fast – it quite takes our breath away. When we are tense or depressed, our breath becomes shallow and inadequate. One thing I know from working with people on voice and speaking – many of us hold parts of our body so that we are unable to breathe deeply and well, and this affects not only our voice, but our whole physical and mental well-being.
So here at the end of the year is a tribute to breath, offered with my hope is that it will serve you well through the season of stress and goodwill.
So let’s look at the benefits of breathing deeply every day:
1. Breathing releases tension
Your body constricts when you are tense, angry, scared or stressed; your breath becomes shallow and you don’t get the amount of oxygen your body needs. Deep breathing releases this constriction. Watching your breath in meditation is a great way to release tension.
There is a way of breathing that’s a shame and a suffocation and there’s another way of expiring, a love breath, that lets you open infinitely. Rumi
2. Breathing releases toxins from your body
If you breathe shallowly you don’t get rid of toxins properly and you put a strain on your body that can in time lead to illness. Your body is designed to release 70% of its toxins through breathing. Deep breathing removes carbon-dioxide and increases oxygen in the blood and thus increases blood quality.
3. Breathing brings health and tone to your body
As you use your diaphragm in deep breathing, you massage your stomach, liver, pancreas and heart and improve their circulation. As you breathe deeply the lungs become healthy and powerful, a good insurance against respiratory problems. Good breathing tones your abdominal muscles – try singing an oratorio with heart and soul, you’ll feel you’ve had a good workout! It strengthens your immune system as oxygen travels through your bloodstream by attaching to haemoglobin in your red blood cells, and this in turn enriches your body to metabolise nutrients and vitamins. The digestive organs receive more oxygen and operate more efficiently. Proper breathing makes the heart stronger.
4. Breathing brings clarity to the mind
When you breathe slowly and deeply, increased oxygen reaches your brain and you think more clearly. Even when nervous, a deep purposeful breath will bring to your mind what to say, or bring to mind the thought you need at the time. It gives you courage to speak, or do what you need to do. Start to notice how you naturally take a deep breath before doing something energetic or highly focused, and how the breath is the trigger to action. When you are stuck, take a good breath; the act of breathing creates something new, and you are no longer in that stuck place.
5. Breathing fosters creativity
Your in-breath is your inspiration (“in” + Latin “spirare” – to breathe) As you breathe in, feelings and ideas come to you and your creativity is stimulated. There’s nothing like a good 1 or 2 hour walk for instance, where you do nothing but move your body, breathe fully and look around you, for prompting new thinking and ideas.
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” Thich Nhat Hanh
6. Breathing brings emotional relief
When you breathe deeply, you clear uneasy feelings out of your body, and increase pleasure-inducing neurochemicals in your brain, thus lifting your mood. We say that we breathe but that’s not quite true: life breathes us. Observe someone’s breath and you can tell what is happening to them; every emotion or physical trauma alters their breathing. A large component of pain is tension and fear. Breathing deeply into your pain helps to ease it. Millions of women going through childbirth know this to be true. To induce calm, breathe in slowly and feel the quietness enter your body, then breathe out to rid yourself of tension and anxiety.
Breath is extraordinarily powerful because it is part of the ‘automatic’ response system, yet it is also part of the ‘voluntary’ response system in that we can deliberately and intentionally manipulate our breathing to produce different vital states. Deb Shapiro
7. Breathing creates harmony with another person
If you want to get on the same wavelength as someone, become aware of their breathing, and match it for a while. You’ll soon find that you are feeling in tune with them, and understanding better what is going on for them mentally and emotionally.
8. Breathing awakens your life force
Every sound we make, every action we take, depends on an intake of air for its energy. The poet e e Cummings paints a wonderful picture of an energetic god creating the world in a single breath:
when god decided to invent
everything he took one
breath bigger than a circus-tent
and everything began
In referring to energy, the Japanese talk of Ki, the Chinese of Qi, the Hawaiians of Ti or Ki. Indians refer to prana. When our Ki is strong we feel confident and ready to enjoy life and take on challenges. When it is low, we feel weak and are more likely to get sick. Descriptions of Ki/Chi/Qi energy nearly always associate it with the breath. We receive Ki from the air we breath, from food, sunshine, and from sleep. It’s also possible to increase our Ki by using breathing exercises and meditation.
9. Breathing is the basis of your authenticity
When you respond to someone honestly and spontaneously, your in-breath is transformed without hiatus into sound or action. If you want to strike something – hit a nail with a hammer for instance – your in-breath as you raise your arm creates all the power you need to make the strike, without your thinking about it. In speech, to express pleasure we naturally take in a free full breath, which opens the body, energises us and produces a warm vibrant sound. To refute something, our in-breath is firm and rapid and produces a strong resolute reply. The difference in sound is all in the intention that creates your in-breath – which then produces sounds that match the intention.
If, on the other hand, our response is calculated we interrupt the natural progression from in-breath to sound, and pause for a second at the top of the breath for our conscious mind to control what we say. In this case, the sound we make fails to express our inner energy, and comes out either flatter and duller, or falsely manipulated to ‘express’ something.
It’s nothing to do with putting on a particular voice. I often used to talk urgently and stridently to my children – “Don’t do that! Come away from there! – with ever-diminishing effect. Then sometimes a resolve took hold inside me, and I would think/feel to myself with a kind of internal knowing, “This is enough. I truly am not going to allow this any more. This is really enough.” My in-breath then was full of intention, and what came out of my mouth then was something much quieter, much firmer and slower, and from deep in my body. And when that happened, the children instantly took heed. (And I was surprised by their response every time because I hadn’t been thinking about putting on a particular voice!)
10. Breathing is the way to stillness
Nothing in life is ever completely still. Stillness has movement within it; the world is always breathing. Our still point is always moving, even in meditation there is a dance deep inside us, moving with the breath. Stay with this beautiful thought as you breathe in and out.
“I said to my soul, be still, and wait…So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” T.S. Eliot
For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. ~Sanskrit Proverb
Some suggestions for breathing deeply
Try this, slow breathing
Breathe in through your nose, feeling calm enter you, expanding your belly easily, then fill your chest, counting slowly to 5 (3 to 4 seconds). Hold for a count of 3, feeling all your cells fill with golden healing light and energy. Breathe slowly out through the nose counting slowly to 5. Feel all your cells expel waste and negativity. Continue this slow breathing cycle for a few minutes, keeping the breathing deep, slow and rhythmic.
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. Thich Nhat Hanh
Try this, the cat breath
Lie down in a comfortable place on the floor or stretch out on a sofa. Imagine seeing a lazy cat stretched out on the floor, basking in the rays of the sun. Watch the way the cat’s belly gently rises and falls. Notice how the cat’s breathing fills its entire body. Imagine now that you are that cat, feeling the pleasant heat on your body and luxuriating in letting your breath fill your entire body and spread to the tips of your limbs. Feel what it is like to be that cat. Abandon yourself to the sensation. Remember too that even as a cat is still and relaxed, it is never slumped and exhausted, but always relaxed and alert, ready to spring to action should the need arise!
Try this, the energising breath
Take three rapid in-breaths through your nose, without an out-breath in between, then breathe out strongly with the long releasing sound haaaa. Repeat several times. If you like, accompany it with movement: lift your arms in front to waist height on the first in-breath, sweep them out to the side on the second in-breath, and sweep them up above your head on the third in-breath. Then release the air all at once with a strong haaaa, bending the knees, leaning forward and down and letting the arms sweep down in front and past your hips in a single movement. Repeat a few times: in, in, in, haaaa; in, in, in, haaaa.
The secret of breath
The secret of breath is to remember. Feeling resentful? Take a big breath; breathe strongly out and rid yourself of the corrosive feeling. Feeling angry? Breathe in strength and calm. Feeling tense? Take a slow releasing breath. Feeling stressed? Breathe in stillness and calHow long does it take? As long as a single breath. We all have time for it. Though several breaths are even better!
This must be the simplest thing I have ever written about. Maybe I’m getting old enough to write about simple things – that would be good!
Have a great break over Christmas. I wish you love and laughter, and some blessed calm.
Voice of Influence Workshop – 3-4 March 2016, London
Take this opportunity once and for all to become a more confident and powerful speaker. These two days out of your life are a great investment to last you a lifetime – the skills you learn you’ll use again and again. Find your voice; turn nerves into useful energy; learn how to engage and influence your listeners. I take only a small group so your personal needs are met, and you’ll find the experience safe, friendly and energising.
My Books and Breathing!
You’ll find a good chapter on breathing in Voice of Influence: How to Get People to Love to Listen to You.
Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies has plenty of useful material on breathing well for public speaking.
Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence talks about breath in the context of confidence. Breathing well is an important element of overcoming nerves.
That leaves my Art of Conversation. Yes, breathing is mentioned in this book too!
If you have issues with confidence, communication, speaking and presenting, or relationships (for instance when moving into more senior roles.),I might well be the right coach for you. I have worked with people from many walks of life, from directors and senior managers to the self employed and those changing direction. The work starts from where you currently are.
What might you get from coaching? You will think more clearly, move into action more easily, and gain solid inner confidence to serve you well in all situations. You’ll feel calmer, more in control and more able to meet whatever difficulties you may have to face in the future. You’ll feel lighter and energised.
You might want a coach for a good stretch of time; you might be looking for 3 or 4 sessions or even a single session – whatever your objective you’ll find it well worth your while. Contact me here or at 01306 886114 to talk it through.