Breathing your way to wellness

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Your health in your hands

By RUTH WOUDSTRA

‘Take a deep breath’ might be regarded as cliché, and is often the last thing you want to do when feeling anxious or stressed. And yet, the fact that the breath is arguably the body’s most powerful healing force, means there’s a lot to be said for starting with the basics.

We can survive without food and water for days on end, but we can only live without oxygen for six minutes before the heart stops. In our daily lives, breathing is not necessarily something we are always conscious of, and yet, its healing power is infinite.

Think for a moment about the fluctuation of your energy levels during the day. How are they affected by your work, diet, and sleep patterns? What about thoughts and emotions? Any imbalance in lifestyle and stress can lead to energy drain in the short term, and dis-ease in the long term.

Breathwork, however, can reverse this process and allow your vital energy (also known as chi, ki or prana) to flow more freely.

The question is: when do you take time out to breathe deeply? Essentially, it should be both practical and doable for you. If you enjoy routine, start your day with some breath exercises or work breathing in before meals. You can even add it to your to do list. If you are more spontaneous, pause during the day when you feel you need it, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths.

As for different breathing techniques, the list is endless. One of my favourites is the ‘four part breath’ where you inhale for four counts through both nostrils, retain the breath for four counts, exhale through the nostrils for four counts and hold the breath out for four.

According to Wikipedia, there is no evidence that breathwork can heal the body. This is not a surprising view in a world where Western medicine is often our first port of call.

A holistic approach to healing, however, looks at the connection between mind and body. And what better way to connect the two than by the breath? Breathing brings you back to being instead of doing, which is often our default mode. That ‘doing’ includes thinking: an often unconscious and repetitive pattern which can simply be intercepted by becoming aware of the breath.

Further benefits of breath work are plenty. It can leave you feeling centred, relaxed, and at peace. You may be filled with a sense of well being and more in command of the self. For instance, it might be a good idea to breath before giving in to cravings (although, I have to admit, I really struggle with this one in practice!)

We often tend to hand the responsibility for our health to someone else: a doctor, the pharmacist, even an alternative healer. But before venturing down any of these avenues, it is well worth exploring the nuts and bolts of healing. The breath can help reconnect our mental, physical and emotional selves in a matter of moments, and is not only free, but available to us 24/7.

  • Ruth Woudstra teaches yoga.
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