We’ve all heard about mindfulness, have hopefully avoided the sometimes toxic narratives around ‘wellness’ and are au fait with downward facing dog and shivasna. You may have tried chia porridge (I have not). Hub Storyteller Ann Storr learnt about real breathing with Wellbeing guru Sonja.
Have you tried learning more about something as simple – as fundamental and basic – as your breathing? From healthy movement to fuller breathing, there are simple and effective techniques we can all learn to help us move through the world with greater calm, assurance and effectiveness.
Sonja has been running ‘Breathe to Be’ courses at Impact Hub during August. I admit, I was not feeling calm, effective or assured when I joined the final workshop of the series. It was a school holiday day and I’d battled to the Hub with my sometimes shy ten-year-old in tow, and she had to study. There were meetings to contribute to, birthday presents to buy, late invoices to chase and some work that I was desperate to smash… so, yes, this was the perfect time to join in Sonja’s amazing course.
Eight of us tucked into the Gallery, mostly looking a little tense and distracted. Sonja welcomed us, gave a brief intro to herself and her work. She then asked us to place our hands on our stomach, our chest, close our eyes, and breathe. After guiding us through some light breathing, Sonja brought us back to eyes open and, after blinking back to reality, she asked us which hand had moved more. I could feel my heart rate slow as I relaxed. Sonja gently led us through structures of breathing, guiding us through how to breath using the full capacity of our lungs.
Most of us breath from the top of our chests, our shoulders rising and falling. This means that we are failing to use our full lung capacity. Health benefits are a part of the reason to learn how to breathe well. Link between breathing and our stress response system and its hormones (aka ‘fight or flight) are still being unpicked by researchers. All that is known is that there is a link and learning to adopt a calm response to stress may help to avoid inflammation (which can lead chronic health problems including heart disease).
Sonja invited us to experience another exercise. Again one hand to belly one to chest, closed our eyes. We breathed and thought of a person, an object of place that brings happiness. I imagined my kids, when they cosy up together. We sat and just enjoyed that feeling, and thought about how that felt. It felt bloody marvellous. Next we had to think of a person or memory that provokes stress. I felt my breath become shallow, the smile that I’d had evaporate and a frown set in, I felt my fingers tighten. To learn how to cope with that feeling, Sonja taught us 4462 breathing: breath in to a steady count of 4, retain the breath for the same count of 4, slowly exhale to a count of 6, retain for 2, and repeat until the tightness has gone.
The next day I was walking my dog which sounds lovely and calming. Watching him hobble, I panicked about how much it’ll cost to get him all fixed up, about life, about bills to pay and parenthood. It was all getting on top of me. I remembered what Sonja said and placed my hand on my chest: I felt the pressure of my hand, the tension in my fingers and shallowness of breath. I breathed in to a count of 4, held for 4, exhaled for 6 and paused for a count of 2. A few round of this and the problems remain but my sense of panic had abated, and I felt able to cope. Utterly amazing.
Sonja is running ’30 Days to Thrive’ this month (you can catch up), in addition to running meditation workshops for Thursdays in September. Please join in!
Sonja will be teaching meditation on Thursday afternoons throughout September. If you think you can’t meditate I bet you are wrong! Come along, Hubbers, and give it a try. Fancy something you can practice at home? Download here. Sonja is offering a 70% discount for Hubbers; email her firstname.lastname@example.org for the code, or ask Steph.
Five Things to Know About Breathing, by Sonja
- A full belly breath is the secret to a happier, calmer life;
- Full deep belly breathing sends a signal to your brain that all is well, no danger, no need to run;
- Every breath has a corresponding emotion – we can change the way we feel by being aware of and changing the way we breathe. It is a powerful tool, one you have with you every moment of every day;
- Practicing deep breathing, low and slow will have a profoundly positive impact on your wellbeing; and
- So many benefits – aids in sleep, reduces stress and anxiety, is an anti-aging tool, increases energy, improves focus and concentration – the list is fabulously long.