Why Your Breathing Is Stressing You Out (And How To Fix It)
How are you breathing as you read this? Mindfulness, meditation and breathwork technique instructor Beth from Empowered By Beth believes there is a good chance you’re not breathing, well, correctly.
For most of us, breathing comes naturally. It happens instinctively the moment we’re born, and we take it for granted from that point. But it turns out many of us could benefit from relearning how to breathe.
Why breathing and wellbeing go hand-in-hand
We live in an uber stimulating world. Bright lights, technical devices, a cacophony of sounds, scents and sights; they might seem normal, but the human body was never made to endure such a relentless barrage. For many, the result is an active sympathetic nervous system, or in other words, the flight/fight/freeze scenario. This state results in weak, shallow and fast breathing, a language the body translates to mean stress and anxiety. With the body in this pent-up state, it can’t work efficiently.
Being conscious of your breathing, slowing it down and taking deeper volumes of oxygen tells the body to relax. Or, as Beth puts it, this deliberate reset sends a “rest and digest” signal. In a more relaxed state, the body can dismiss its survival planning and instead focus on its primary mission - renewal, repair, re-energise.
How do we learn to breathe?
In her Undo classes, Beth likes to start with mindfulness activities. The group becomes aware of their present situation through visualisation tactics, opening their ears to sound their senses to touch. Once this is established, she then introduces breathing exercises. In through the nose, out through the nose, trying to send your breath to your belly - this is the best way to breathe.
Do you have to meditate to breathe properly, or breathe properly to meditate?
Beth does not believe the two are symbiotic. However, one often naturally leads to the other. That said, if you’re tight for time, Beth recommends choosing between the two and just focusing on that. For instance, you might want to visualise yourself floating on a cloud or sitting somewhere pleasant with the warm sun on your back. Doing this should naturally send your body into a state whereby it is slowing down and breathing more deeply, rhythmically and peacefully.
How a global pandemic has shifted our perception of mindfulness, meditation and breathing
Whereas once these disciplines were sometimes regarded as a bit “woo-woo”, the pandemic has had a seismic effect on our perception of such “remedial” therapies. Not only do more of us seem more open about it, but General Practitioners of western medicine are increasingly prescribing meditation or breathwork as part of their patient's treatment or recovery plans.
Are you about to go for a job interview? Are you scared of public speaking?
Are your palms getting sweaty? Are you fidgeting? Is your voice trembling? Slow. It. Down. And. Breathe. In, out, deep down to the belly and S.L.O.W. What you are doing is physiologically changing your body - you’re sending a new signal that everything is ok. Beth even recommends doing this whilst you’re in the interview talking or from the podium delivering that speech. In most instances, nobody will recognise what is happening and even if they do, they will probably just suspect you’re in thoughtful contemplation!
How did Beth come to breathe?
A professional dancer, Beth moved to and lived in China for two years. It was there she found yoga and, in particular, a teacher who focused a lot on breathwork. Alone for much of the time, Beth gravitated to self-development literature and absorbed a lot in that space. A move to London dialed her stress levels right up and so Beth drew on her breathing, yoga and self-development to get through this testing time.
As her dance career neared an end, Beth realised a lot of the pleasure from her career came not so much from the dancing but from the interactions and relationships she formed during that time. People naturally gravitated towards her, seeking a friendly shoulder to lean on or an open and understanding ear. These moments often left others feeling a lot better, and Beth buzzing for having helped them.
Beth became aware that this was her next calling, and so she enrolled to study psychotherapy. Although she was content to support her studies through a job in administration, she felt a tug to find work that was more inline with her true passions. Serendipity provided, with Undo Studios opening in her hometown. Beth now instructs Mindfulness, Meditation and Breathwork classes at Undo and will soon launch one-on-one practices.
Therapy and breathing
There is a growing body of evidence acknowledging meditation as a form of therapy, something that brings Beth’s worlds together and excites her. Upon qualification, she has plans to combine the two; psychotherapy to help develop self-awareness, understand defense or coping mechanisms and then breathwork as a management tool to help handle them.
Warning: Breathwork and meditation can result in emotions bubbling to the surface
It is not unusual for Beth’s students to become quite emotional after their first class. Many come into class burdened by trauma. A common coping mechanism is to build distractions and emotional barriers between the person and the trauma; intellectually, they can see it is present, but emotionally they can remain immune. Not so much when they meditate or practice breathing. This tends to release a lot of those emotions and catch us by surprise. Whilst it can be unsettling and even disturbing at first, Beth says many of her students return the following week having really benefited from the cathartic experience. Anxiety reduces, confidence boosts, they feel better.
Respond rather than react
So many of us are guilty of being so busy, thinking on our feet, thinking too much, reacting quickly rather than pausing… Beth believes in responding rather than reacting, giving ourselves time to breathe, slow down and find clarity.
Self-care is key to wellbeing
In the event of an airplane crashing, we’re instructed to administer our own air mask before turning to help someone else with theirs. Beth believes a similar approach is needed for self-care. Even if we are a parent, a partner, a friend, we need to invest firstly in ourselves in order to nourish relationships or care for others. We can’t fully help others unless we have firstly helped ourselves. For Beth, part of that is feeling good, which is why she takes Edible Health Bovine Collagen. Although she used to take it regularly, she stopped for a period of time and only recently resumed. Just the other day, Beth thought her hair and skin were looking healthier than normal but, at the time, did not make the connection with her daily collagen. It’s only now she’s realised there is probably a link.
Breathe with Beth
Starting on Sunday 13th March 2022, Beth will be leading a weekly session via zoom “Sunday Sanctuary” at 8.15-9pm. These sessions are designed to relax the mind, body and soul, the perfect opportunity to reset and rejuvenate before the week ahead. As mentioned earlier, Beth also offers one -o-one sessions for those who would like a more personalised experience and sessions tailored to their needs.
If you’re interested in Beth’s classes, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will let you know when her website launches, too!
The information we have provided herewith, and all linked materials, are not intended nor should they be construed as medical advice. Moreover, the information herewith should not be used as a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions and consult your General Practitioner for advice specific for you.