BREATHE EASY Learn breath­ing tech­niques for a stress-free life.

A belly full of breath is the se­cret to a hap­pier life. Look to Eastern philoso­phies to discover how to breathe your­self stress-free, says Jen Shaw

In the Moment - - Contents -

Breath­ing just hap­pens; it isn’t some­thing we think a lot about. But therein lies the prob­lem: we’re all so busy think­ing about other things that we’ve for­got­ten how to breathe fully. And this lack of con­scious breath is stop­ping us from liv­ing calmer, hap­pier lives.

“Breath­ing is some­thing we all know how to do, and yet the ma­jor­ity of teenagers and adults let go of their nat­u­ral abil­ity to breathe fully,” says breath coach Re­becca Den­nis. She has a point: re­search shows that the ma­jor­ity of teenagers and adults are only us­ing about 30% of their lung ca­pac­ity. “We are con­di­tioned from an early age to con­trol our feel­ings and emo­tions and, as a re­sult, our mus­cles tighten and our breath­ing pat­terns be­come

re­stricted. The im­pact on our men­tal and phys­i­cal well­be­ing is huge,” she adds.

Ex­perts at the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Stress agree: “Breath­ing con­sciously helps you to feel con­nected to your body – it brings your aware­ness away from the wor­ries in your head and qui­ets your mind.”

They sug­gest that just 20-30 min­utes a day of ab­dom­i­nal breath­ing can re­duce anx­i­ety and stress: “Deep breath­ing in­creases the sup­ply of oxy­gen to your brain and stim­u­lates the parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem, which pro­motes a state of calm­ness.”

Of course, us­ing deep breath­ing tech­niques to im­prove our men­tal and phys­i­cal health isn’t a new idea. Qigong (pro­nounced ‘chee-gong’) is a gen­tle mov­ing med­i­ta­tion that is part of an­cient Chi­nese cul­ture and phi­los­o­phy, and the root of all mar­tial arts. It is prac­ticed as part of Tao­ism (an an­cient re­li­gion that’s cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­vival in China), as well as Bud­dhism and Con­fu­cian­ism. It in­cludes a di­verse set of prac­tices and ex­er­cises fo­cused on body, mind – and breath.

For acupunc­tur­ist and qigong teacher Eva Inglizian, qigong breath­ing is the key to chang­ing our energy and quickly calm­ing mind, body and spirit. “It con­sists of slow in­hales while ex­pand­ing the belly, and long, slow ex­hales to soften the ab­domen. Within

ve to 10 breath cy­cles of ab­dom­i­nal breath­ing, our energy can be greatly changed, calm­ing the mind and let­ting go of anx­i­ety and stress,” she ex­plains.

Reg­u­lar qigong prac­tice has been shown to calm the sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem, re­duce lev­els of cor­ti­sol (the stress hor­mone linked to di­ges­tive is­sues, in­som­nia and anx­i­ety) and cre­ate a sense of peace. And busy mum-of-two Eva be­lieves it’s easy to t a reg­u­lar breath­ing rit­ual into a hec­tic life­style: “I use my daily 20-minute qigong rit­ual to keep me grounded, lled with vi­tal­ity and ready to en­gage. It brings me a peace of mind, a mel­low de­meanour and peo­ple of­ten com­ment on my healthy glow.”

Qigong breath­ing ex­er­cises aim to re­vi­talise our qi and bal­ance our yin and yang el­e­ments.

“Qi is energy,” says Eva. “It is our life force and runs through the merid­i­ans – the energy chan­nels in our body. Yin runs on the front of your body and rep­re­sents the shady side of the moun­tain. It’s the cool­ing mech­a­nism of the body, the fem­i­nine energy of the body and is our foun­da­tion and sta­bil­ity. Mean­while, yang energy runs on the back of the body and rep­re­sents the sunny side of the moun­tain. It’s our mas­cu­line energy, the heat­ing mech­a­nism of our body and our strength and force,” she ex­plains. “By prac­tic­ing qigong, we bal­ance these du­al­i­ties and har­monise the mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine within our­selves.”

Qigong isn’t the only breath­ing prac­tice that is in­creas­ingly be­ing adopted into our West­ern cul­ture. The prac­tice of sophrol­ogy was de­vel­oped by neu­ropsy­chi­a­trist Pro­fes­sor Al­fonso Caycedo in Spain in 1960. It con­sists of sim­ple ex­er­cises that com­bine breath­ing tech­niques with el­e­ments of Ti­betan Bud­dhist med­i­ta­tion, hyp­no­sis and Ja­panese Zen to har­monise and re-cen­tre.

Thanks to its bene ts, it has been slowly mi­grat­ing across Europe, with classes now be­ing reg­u­larly o ered to school and univer­sity stu­dents in Switzer­land and France as a way to man­age stress, build con dence and pre­pare for ex­ams. A study con­ducted by

Kent Busi­ness School in 2016 also found that sophrol­ogy had a pos­i­tive im­pact on em­ploy­ees’ phys­i­cal and men­tal health. “Sophrol­ogy is a well­be­ing prac­tice that blends those an­cient Eastern philoso­phies with West­ern sci­ence to help us tap into our re­silient selves,” says sophrol­o­gist Do­minique Antiglio. “It uses breath­ing, re­lax­ation, body aware­ness, med­i­ta­tion and vi­su­al­i­sa­tion tech­niques de­signed to help you con­nect with your re­silience and im­prove your men­tal and phys­i­cal health,” she adds.

But you don’t have to count your­self as a

qigong or sophrol­ogy prac­ti­tioner to no­tice the bene ts of deep breath­ing. “There are many di er­ent ways of breath­ing to in uence your

Clock­wise from top:Eva teaches thiscleans­ingex­er­cise at herre­treat; free your­selffrom wor­ries with aqigong vi­su­al­i­sa­tion;is prac­tisedin Bud­dhism.

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