Thursday, July 2, 2015

They all say to stop and breathe, but how exactly do we do it?

Oh my goodness there are a ton of posts on mindfulness, meditation, and anxiety reduction. Almost all of them have some form of, "stop, be still, and breathe to calm yourself." It's great advice. And it works. The trouble is, how do you stop, be still, and breathe when you might be scared, anxious, nervous, or downright freakin' out?

What are the magical steps? How do you grab onto the focus and calm that lets you take any sort of breath when you are already stressed? And even if you manage to take a deep breath, are you doing it correctly? Will you get the most relaxation bang for your inhalation buck?

Most of us breathe inefficiently. I've taught thousands of people to sing and speak and I've watched them breathe to assess what they are doing and how they are doing it. Almost every single person breathes in such a way that she or he uses up a great deal of energy and motion on the breath but almost never gets the full benefit of either that breath or that energy expenditure.

So, let's take a look at breathing. In these next few posts on Communication Thursdays, we'll go over it step by step, and get you the information you need to breathe deeply and effectively.

We breathe involuntarily. We don't think about it. Some people have to think about it because it's not a voluntary action to them and that must be arduous. Others have breathing issues like asthma, and although this post might be helpful to them, I admit it's not geared towards them. For the rest of us, breathing requires almost no thought. If we aren't sick or having other breathing issues, we breathe easily. However, although we breathe easily, we often breathe inefficiently. And if we want to reap the rewards deep breathing can bring, we must become efficient breathers. With full and mindful breathing, we will reap the many benefits that such breathing can bring.

Let's take the next few minutes together and breathe with purpose. I'll show you how. Stand up (if you aren't already) and take a big ol' breath. I'll wait right here. :)

How did that feel?

Did your shoulders rise up when you inhaled? Did your belly, back, and chest feel tight or cramped? If you don't remember, bring your awareness to your body, take another breath and try to answer these questions. I'll bet you answered yes to at least one of them. If so, then you can improve your breathing.

Did you feel balanced when you inhaled? How did it feel to take that deep breath? See if you can become aware of how you are inhaling and exhaling. Take care if you start to feel a little lightheaded. We are not used to deep breathing and the extra oxygen can make us feel a little woozy. If you start to feel that, sit down, relax and try it again after the feeling passes.

Ready to try again? Good.

Now, let's take the breaths we were taking and make them even better. 
First, let's think about our alignment. Whether we are breathing deeply to sing, speak, address discomfort or just for the sake of these exercises, it is a good idea to maintain good posture and alignment. Let's start from the bottom. 

Our stance is the core of good breath. And a good stance will be to keep your feet hip width whether or you are standing or sitting. So, let's try it. Stand (or sit, if that is what is comfortable for you) with your feet hip width apart. To make sure your feet are hip width apart, stand (or sit) with your feet facing forward draw an imaginary line from your second toe (of each foot), through the middle of your ankle, up through the middle of your knee, and up to your hip points. Hip points are the part of your hip that points in front of you or juts out to the front. It is not the outside of your hips. If you stand with this alignment, you are well on your way to maintaining good posture.

Next time, we will talk about your trunk, shoulders, neck, and head and how to maintain proper alignment in those parts of your body. Once you have proper alignment, we will talk inhalations, exhalations, and every part in between to get you breathing deeply, fully, and effectively.

In the meantime, whenever you must speak, sing, or even just stand for any length of time, try to remember this alignment tip. It will help you stand longer and more easily. 

Until next time, here's a thought on breath.

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