Do you drive? If you have been driving more than a few years now, you probably think you’re a good driver, don’t you? You don’t even have to think about what you are doing when you’re behind the wheel, you can just do it.
Do you think you could pass your driving test again? I’m not sure I would, even if I sat the same test I did when I passed in 2002. I certainly would fail on the standards of today’s test.
Why is this? Over time, we change the way we drive. We take short cuts, don’t do everything so precisely as we did for our examiner, and we fall into bad habits that would certainly get us a negative point on a driving test. You’re not alone, I think everyone is the same.
It is the same with anything we do so often we don’t even have to think about it. We become ‘unconsciously competent’ at it, we can do it without giving it any thought. This unconscious competence is a vital feature of the learning process. Imagine how long it would take to get anything done if you had to consciously go through every step. When I become more conscious of the writing process as I write this blog post, progress becomes almost unbearably slow, and I won’t get it finished in time if I stay at this pace.
We often use the phrase ‘I can do it in my sleep’ to describe something we are unconsciously competent at. One thing we have been doing unconsciously since birth is breathing. People are often surprised to discover that breathing is something that we need to learn. Maybe ‘relearn’ would be the more appropriate word. As you would probably need some lessons from a driving instructor if you had to take your driving test again, you will benefit hugely from relearning how to breathe.
Why do you need to ‘learn’ how to breathe?
When you were born, your body knew exactly what to do to enable you to breathe. At the moment you emerged from the womb, you took your first breath, and your whole respiratory system kicked into action. That first breath took away your dependency on your mother for oxygen, and your lungs started to work for you.
In the first years of your life, your body breathed perfectly. If you watch a baby or toddler breathe, they use the whole of their lungs, with their little chest and abdomen swelling and contracting to accomodate great gulps and exhalations of air.
In time, things change. I noticed that my little boy, who was 4 when I started Yoga teacher training, breathed fully at the start, but it had changed by the time my course ended.
A variety of things conspire to change the way we breathe, leading to us breathing far less healthily and effectively.
Babies and toddlers tend to have pretty good posture. Babies’ bodies strengthen in the first few months of life, and when they begin to sit, it is usually with a straight back. Once they start to crawl and then walk, they tend to be very active, their bodies moving exactly as they should. As we grow, however, we learn to ‘relax’ the body, and develop slouching and other bad posture habits. When we sit or stand in a slouched posture, we restrict the ability of the lungs to expand and contract as they need to for good breathing.
This might seem an odd reason for our breathing to change, but it is a powerful one.
We, particularly women, are given messages that we must have small, flat tummies if we are to be considered womanly and beautiful. Impossibly slender models, photoshopped beyond all recognition, are presented to us as an aspirational goal, and we are told that we cannot be attractive with anything else. Given that most ‘real’ women have very different bodies, with significantly more tummy than a Cosmo model, this is a very damaging ideal for us to have. I spent my 20’s and 30’s desperatly trying to hide my tummy, which was the result of puberty, 3 children, a sedentary lifestyle and far too much sugar and alcohol.
Aside from the emotional toll such messaging takes on us, this impacts on our ability to breathe properly. When we breathe fully, and take air down to the bottom area of the lungs, the abdominal area expands. It feels quite counter intuitive when you start doing this, as many of us have had a life time of being told that in order to, for example, squeeze into a tight pair of jeans, you breathe in to make yourself smaller. This is, when you look at it logically, a misnomer. You are filling your body with air. Nothing gets smaller when you fill it with air. We don’t ‘breathe into the belly’ when we inhale, but the belly certainly expands to accomodate the air in the lungs.
It took a lot of inner work for me to be able to do this, as decades of issues over my belly meant that I was fighting myself to allow it to expand. I know that others struggle with it too, as it feels wrong and very difficult. But I promise you, it is worth it.
Stress and your breath are very connected. When we are relaxed, truly relaxed in mind and body, we breathe slow, deep breaths, that fill the lungs well. Stress causes the breath to be shallow, fast and erratic. We know that taking a deep breath can bring calm during a stressful momentbut we need to develop that conscious awareness of the breath. When someone advises you to ‘Take a deep breath and count to 10’ in a difficult moment, you do, and it calms you. In that moment, you are consciously directing your breath, not allowing it to happen to you.
AS life becomes ever more stressful, and we become more and more disconnected from our bodies as we rush about from this to that, we rarely stop and notice what the breath is doing, or how our bodies are feeling in general.
Train the breathing muscles
Your lungs are made up of muscle, and like all muscle, when they aren’t use properly often, they become weaker. By working with a teacher who is trained in Pranayama (yoga breath work), you will be taught to gradually exercise the muscles of the lungs, strengthening them so they are able to work more effectively. As you practice, you will start to notice that breathing becomes easier, and you can feel the benefits of it more.
Awareness of the breath.
When I give talks about the importance of breathing well, people often tell me that they noticed their breath more as I spoke, and that it got slower and more relaxed. This is the beauty of awareness. We are generally so preoccupied with other things in life that we never stop to notice the breath that enables us to do it all. We notice the breathe when there is a problem with it, if for some reason we are struggling to breathe. The practices I teach will give you far greater awareness of your breath, and make you more conscious of what your lungs are doing. When you bring conscious awareness to your breath, you find that you naturally breathe better.
Want to learn to breathe?
I learned to breathe properly when I trained to teach Yoga in 2014, and it changed my life completely. Greatly improved mental and physical health, stress management tools, and resilience to stress I had never had before, the ability to sleep well, and sobriety and giving up smoking after over 20 years of addiction. It is now my great honour and privilege to teach this to others, and I would love to teach you as well.
Book your free connection call now to find out how I can help you take control of your breath, and take control of your life.