Image by Janna El Borno
Breathing is often considered just that involuntary, natural action that keeps us going. And yes, that’s true, but when used consciously, the benefits can go a lot further. Stress reliever. Digestion supporter. Performance improvement. Ireland’s free-diving phenomenon, Claire Walsh, knows better than most how deep the advantages of efficient + effective breathing go. Read more below as she shares her thoughts on conscious breath-work and how you can follow some very simple steps to help you find your own sense of calm.
Scrolling through social media these days, it doesn’t take long to come across a post that encourages using our breath to ground, calm or connect. Just take a deep breath…. Focus on your breathing…. Breathe Deeply!
If 2020 saw a boom in the amount of people taking to sea swimming, 2021’s trend is breath-work and conscious breathing. So why the hype? Everyone breathes. Inhale, exhale, surely it’s fairly standard?
Practices that centre around breathing are nothing new. What is new is perhaps a greater need to equip ourselves with as many skills as possible that help improve our well-being. Our breath is always accessible to us making it the perfect starting point to slow things down and give us a sense of autonomy in maintaining our mental health.
Slowing down our breath and breathing lower into the body can help us identify tension that we didn’t realise we were holding. Slowing down our exhale, more often than not we find our shoulders coming down from their previous position, up around our ears! Our heart rate lowers and our nervous system switches from fight or flight to rest and digest. Racing thoughts; where we need to be, what we need to do, what happened earlier, slow down. Our breathing helps us come out of our head and into our body. It allows us to pause, to create a moment where we can observe what’s going on and to choose our reaction rather than being swept up in the momentum of our thoughts, emotions and environment.
Practicing better breathing techniques helps us build the habit, making it more accessible when we really need it! There are many approaches. My favourite is a simple one: Lying on my bed or sitting comfortably, I line up a song on my headphones. (I’m a creature of habit so it’s always one of two; O by Coldplay and I Giorni by Ludivoco Einuadi. Both pieces, very simply, make me smile!) The next few minutes are just for me, in that moment and with the purpose of paying attention to how I breathe. Closing my eyes, I place my hands low on my belly. Breathing in to a count of 4, I allow my belly to expand, keeping the upper part of my body as relaxed as possible. Breathing out I think about lengthening my exhale, as I try to soften areas of tension in my body. I spent the length of the song repeating the cycle. It’s 4 mins of my day that might appear so simple, but has such an impact.
We all know the benefits of spending time outdoors, hanging out with pals or belonging to a wider community. That sense of connection can start much closer to home. No matter where we are, we can always feel the benefits of what happens when we make space and simply...Breathe.