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Don't start with box breathing!

Whenever I have a conversation about breathing, breath work - and most of all what google recommends when it comes to these things (often when we're searching how to help anxiety also!) - I end up saying 'how about not starting with box breathing?'. (And DEFINITELY not the Wim Hof style of over-breathing!!)

By the way, box breathing is where we, for example, breath in for 4, hold for 4, breath out for 4, hold for 4 (or other counts).

And these are the reasons why:

We're over-stressed and overstimulated. A lot of breathing practices actually stimulate the nervous system (e.g. breath holds), which means we actually end up more dysregulated.

Often, the mechanics of our breath aren't working well to begin with; meaning, our overall quality of breath every second of every day is kinda pants! So introducing a specific breathing practice, even with short breath holds like in box breathing, can actually accentuate a pattern that is already stressed out, not working well, causing restricted breath, frozen diaphragm etc., (and often at least contributing to some feelings of anxiety).

Most of us need to first learn to DOWN REGULATE our systems, before we start to then introduce the 'stress' again (in the form of breath holds, over breathing etc. which are amazing for us, but only if we have the foundation of regulation first).

I see people trying breath work taking 'big deep breaths' where their shoulders are doing all the moving (see the cover pic for this article - the woman in this picture in doing exactly that, hunching into her shoulders! Don't strive to breath like this!), and exhales that are super fast to begin with, which then run out of steam (over breathing, that can sometimes bring that 'light headed' feeling).

So instead, try this:

  • Lie down. Don't try this standing to begin with. There might feel like there's a lot to focus on, and muscles can relax more when you're working with gravity instead of against it.

  • Breath through your nose. If this is new, start with just a breath or two, perhaps in through the nose out of the mouth, with the intention of building this up for longer.

  • Breath into the BELLY. Your shoulders shouldn't move. I often suggest standing in front of a mirror for a breath or two and observe where is actually moving. You could try placing a hand on your belly for more connection there if that helps. Focus on the belly not just moving forwards and backwards, but also out at the sides and back. This gets your diaphragm moving, and is also great for beginning to connect to your pelvic floor. You can even imagine sending your breath deeper, right through into the depths of your pelvis (this is indeed what happens, as your breath in, your diaphragm should move down, which moves the organs in your abdomen down, so your pelvic floor moves down slightly too).

  • Make your exhale smoother - meaning, there is an equal flow of air out all through the exhale, not a big gush of air and then you run out of air to breath out. This shouldn't be audible, more like a soft whisper, if anything.

ONLY WHEN all of the above is feeling more natural and easier, would I experiment with other breathing techniques for example:

  • resonance breathing, which is equal inhales and exhales e.g. breath in for 3 and breath out for 3. Build this up until you can do it for 4 and 5 counts. This becomes a great 'barometer', meaning as you do this more, you'll notice on days when there's more stress in your body, slowing the breath down can feel harder.

  • Ok, now many days/weeks into this, you're now ready to try box breathing! Other options at this stage include viloma breathing (topping up the inhale with extra breath), and alternate nostril breathing.

Any breathing questions? I LOVE this stuff! Let me know below :)


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