Breathing happens naturally, just as our heart beats, we inhale and exhale without conscious thought. But unlike the beating of our heart, we have the ability to control our breath. Through our breath, we can express emotions (a deep positive sigh of satisfaction or a frustrated one of exasperation for example), we feel the intensity of a work out, we can calm ourselves… we can find control and focus. The power of breathing is immense and yet often underestimated. We spend most of our lives breathing automatically, but what if we worked on our breath as much as we work on our abs? Here is my personal story on breathing and how I am currently exploring my own capacities.
When I was fourteen, I took theatre classes. I loved the atmosphere, the costumes, being behind the scenes. I loved the smell. I loved the feeling of belonging to a world outside of my reality. My teacher was in her 30’s, and she introduced me to relaxation and breathing. Each class we were laying in Shavasana (although we had no idea it was Shavasana) and she would ask us to be aware of the feeling of our bodies against the floor. I also learnt my first breathing technique.
I didn’t even think of it as a technique. I just thought she was making us relax. And it worked so well! I even started using the breathing technique at home. Every time I felt restless and anxious (which used to be often), I would lay down and inhale fully, with my stomach first, then all my lungs. Then I would exhale slowly and fully as well. And repeat until I started relaxing. This technique helped me sleep many times.
Although I had little idea what I was really doing, it was my first approach to mindful breathing.
Today, I use breathing techniques, called Pranayama in yoga, for so many situations. I have learnt proper ways to relax, to feel energised, to help me sleep… Simply, I have learnt to breathe.
I’ve spent most of my life using the minimum capacity of my lungs. Many women also tend to breathe into their upper chest. This possibly comes from a maternal instinct, as pregnant women can experience more difficulty filling up their belly and lungs. That way of breathing sometimes brings a feeling of comfort to me, but definitely not enough oxygen!
Indeed, I feel like I’m holding my breath 60% of the time. I often feel stress at work, there’s always a lot to do and so much more to think of. I love my job and I love the adrenaline I feel when we go into service. Time flies, and it’s like we are back in the theatre, playing a scene, with its own choreography and words. It’s both thrilling and exhausting. So before going to bed I check myself, I remember to breathe deeply and mindfully. I thank my body for carrying me through the long days at work. And I pass out in my bunk bed (yep, we only have bunk beds on a boat).
If you’re interested in breathing techniques to help you find balance, energy or fight insomnia, check out the Yoga Journal website, there are so many great videos. One of my favourite Pranayama is called the Nadi Shodhana. It’s an anxiety-relieving, balancing technique, where you breathe through your nostrils alternatively:
If you feel like you want to become a super-human, I invite you to also check out the Wim Hof technique. I was introduced to it during my last Yoga training. It’s the strangest feeling I ever experienced. It’s empowering and challenging. I don’t know where I’ll go with that technique… for now I keep a curious mind, and will try to be more consistent when work chills a bit. Have a look at what this man achieved through breathing: