Breath. We need it to live – and the way we breathe can make life so much better. Though we often take it for granted, breath is the essential element that brings together body, mind and spirit. When we’re frustrated or discouraged, a common reaction is to let out a large sigh to release emotions or tension. And let’s not forget that exercise is always more effective when we stay aware of our breath.
“Breath is the thread that connects all parts of ourselves to the outer world. It is truly the tie that binds. It’s equally possible to have a spiritual experience through different modalities from aerobic classes to the simple act of breathing,” says Kathy Sprague, Associate Director of Spa & Sports at Canyon Ranch in Lenox.
Get breathing, get fit
Fitness activities such as cardio or strength training can be improved by correct breathing. In fact, Canyon Ranch offers an entire fitness class focused on breathing.
“Everything we do in fitness requires good breathing,” Kathy says. “To focus the mind in meditation, you use breath. It is at the heart of many spiritual experiences. In many languages, breath and spirit are the same word. In fitness, whatever we are doing, we always return our focus to the breath.”
Correct breathing allows the diaphragm to descend during inhalation, and the downward pressure causes the abdomen to billow out. There are many types of common breathing patterns. Things such as reverse breathing, chest breathing, chronic or hidden hyperventilation and the long and complete deep breath. Sound complicated? It all makes sense as you explore the possibilities.
Neuromuscular care for your breath
Incorrect breathing creates chronic tension in specific muscles where some are shortened and some over stretched. This has a big impact on posture. Neuromuscular Therapy is an excellent way to assess and improve breathing patterns. Postural and structural assessments are coupled with precise application of pressure to areas of pain or tension. Stretching, healthy breathing and self-care help you in the healing process of reclaiming postural balance and relaxing chronically tight muscles.
So much of physical activity involves attention to breathing, and all of it is visited in one collaborative session at Canyon Ranch. Here you can learn how to breathe to bring the mind to the alpha state.
“If you do slow, rhythmic breathing, it brings the mind into alpha state, a state of greater creativity and spiritual awareness,” Kathy says.
Breathing and the brain
Once you have the physical aspects of breathing under control, how do you address the emotional aspects? There are many ways to do this, including biofeedback.
Your brain waves can be measured during biofeedback, which actually allows you to see how your brain activity is affected by the breath. This measurable change in the brain’s chemistry can emphasize the interconnectedness of body, mind and spirit.
“It’s all the same,” Kathy says. “There’s really no such thing as separation. It is the mind-body connection.”
You can improve so many aspects of health and wellness with the most ordinary off acts so breath easy.
Better Breathing Tip – The long and complete deep breath can be one of the most beneficial acts. In this breath, sit straight with the spine in a balanced position. On your inhalation, begin to breathe into the abdomen, then into the chest and finish with the clavicle. As you start to exhale, relax the clavicle then slowly empty the chest without letting it collapse. Finally, pull in the abdomen and expel any remaining air. The benefits of this exercise are a state of calm and relaxation, while giving you clarity and patience. This breath stimulates the chemicals in the brain to fight depression, while expanding lung capacity.