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
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.