I’ve recently started practising yoga again. Having always loved it when I had done it before, it’s amazing that I ever let it slide in the first place. One noticeable aspect of being a beginner again however, is when your teacher tells you to, “Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.”
Having to be reminded to breathe is funny and stark in equal measure. The breath is our life source yet, the constraints of life often inhibit our ability to breathe and breathe properly. Anyone familiar with yoga practice will tell you about how liberating and strengthening the ujjayi breath can be – in the past two weeks of my practice, I’m so glad to have been able to connect with that breath again to enable me to push harder and deeper into my practice.
But connecting with the power of my breath has not just helped me in yoga terms. It helps to calm me, settle me and focus my mind whether at work or play. Which is why I’m so thrilled with this latest blog, a Q & A with Rebecca Dennis, as I’d love for everyone to realise the strength within our own breath.
Rebecca Dennis is a Transformational Breath coach and founder of BreathingTree.co.uk and author of ‘And Breathe.’
Rebecca studied cutting edge breath technique Transformational Breath with founder Judith Kravitz in Mexico and Miami and has worked with other influential trainers in Italy and the UK. Rebecca has featured on BBC Radio, Tatler, Elle, Red Magazine, The Times, The Telegraph, Grazia, Psychologies, Style Magazine and this month’s Vogue has stated her book as “a must read.”
Rebecca specialises in treating issues such as stress, anxiety, addiction, depression, trauma, sleeping and focus issues, lack of energy and physical problems. She continues to study with inspirational teachers from all over the world and fervently believes that conscious breathwork is the ultimate key to our well-being, health and inner peace.
Where did Breathing Tree come from – how did it start for you?
I started Breathing Tree nine years ago. I teach people a technique called Transformational Breath which helps people to clear restricted breathing patterns and help release physical and emotional tension from the body. I had been living with depression for 20 years and took prescribed medication for 15 years. I had tried so many different therapies but nothing seemed to work. Finally, I walked into a breath workshop and it literally transformed my life. It didn’t happen overnight but I was able to gradually come off the medication and alleviate the depression. I’d practiced yoga and studied different bodywork and physiology for years but this time I decided to leave my career in media and train in this so I could help people to change their lives in the way it had mine. I now teach workshops, run retreats and see people for one on one sessions in my practice at Indaba Yoga in London.
How can tapping into breathing patterns help us?
We inhale and exhale 20,000 times a day. Breathing is automatic in the way that our heart beats and our eyes blink so we take that for granted. However, when we learn to consciously breath and become more aware and present it has a multitude of benefits. Improper breathing can have a detrimental effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. We all have breathing patterns and as a breath coach I am trained to see and read them. Some of us are chest breathers, others are belly breathers, shallow breathers, breath holders and so on.
When we are babies we are all breathing properly. When you look at a baby or a toddler breathing you will notice they are breathing fully in the belly, mid-section and chest. The breath is open and there are no restrictions. Teenagers and adults tend to be only using a third of their respiratory system and because we are too busy or stressed we don’t breathe fully. Sometimes we even forget to take a breath at all. When we are under stress it can create chaos in our physiology affecting our bodies systems such as digestion, our immune and nervous system. The brain is continuously sending streams of data to our body and vice versa. Our breath correlates with every emotion, feeling and experience. When we are aware of this we can help the systems of our body become more balanced. It’s key for mental and physical wellbeing.
I think writing my book last year was one my biggest tests and at times I definitely felt like I was winging it with being a mum and juggling my career as well. When I look back on it now I have no idea how I did it but I think it doesn’t hit you sometimes until after the event. I just had this drive in me that I have never felt before to do this as I feel so passionately about the work I do.
How can breathing help with daily anxieties? Can breathing help to give us more confidence in our abilities – whether it be as a new parent or treading a new path in work, life or play?
On a mental level, we have something like 50,000 thoughts a day and not all of them are very useful. The quality of our breath helps to relax the mind and enhance the ability to learn, focus, concentrate and memorise. Breathwork helps us to become conscious of our thoughts, feel more confident, increase our energy levels and be more mindful of what we are putting into our bodies. The brain requires a great deal of oxygen to function and breathwork helps us to achieve clarity and be more productive. It also relieves anxiety, depression and negative thought patterns.
More good news is it helps with the anti-aging process. By reducing stress, it improves our mood, elevating the levels of serotonin and endorphins. A 2013 study by Harvard Medical School’s psychiatry department showed that people who meditated daily for four years have longer telomeres – the protective caps found on the end of chromosomes – than those who do not. Short telomeres have been linked to premature cellular ageing.
The breath is the bridge linking our mind and body. The practice of deep breathing techniques helps to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us to a calm state. Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which allows the body to rest and digest, slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and respiratory rate and diverting blood supply towards the digestive and reproductive systems.
When the Parasympthetic Nervous System is active, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) becomes less active – they counteract each other. The SNS raises heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate, diverting blood to the brain and skeletal muscle in readiness for fight or flight. By deactivating or overriding the SNS, we can interrupt the vicious cycle of adrenaline and cortisol which contribute to chronic stress levels and predispose us to panic attacks and anxiety.
We cannot necessarily control what is going on around us and just by opening our inbox, having to hit deadlines and commitments or reading the news can send us into flight or flight activating our Sympathetic nervous system. By being aware of our breathing we can take care of how it affects us on the inside. Being present and practicing these breathing techniques every day helps us feel more in control of our multi-tasking lives.
As busy people, living increasingly busy lives, getting a good quality of sleep can often be a challenge. What would you advise people do as their head hits the pillow each night to support a better night’s sleep?
As a mum my body clock has totally changed. I used to be a really good sleeper but as I tuned into my little boy’s breathing patterns I found I was more on high alert and often would wake up even just before he would. He now sleeps really well but I find I still wake up at the slightest sound and it can be hard to get back to sleep again.
I use simple breathing techniques such as this:
Exhale completely through your mouth
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Other good tips are to leave your phone and ipad downstairs. Use your bedroom for sleeping rather than checking in on emails first or last thing. Start to wind down a couple of hours before you are going to bed. I find lavender essences very soothing and use of lot of Root & Flower products which are chemical and paraben free.
Image credits: www.breathingtree.co.uk