“ She witnessed my first breath, and I witnessed her last”. Heart wrenching, profound and beautiful words from my incredible business partner and very special friend at her beloved mother’s funeral on Saturday.
Breath is essential to life and we will take about half a billion breaths. What I never appreciated until now is that the mind, body, and breath are intimately connected. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts and physiology can be influenced by our breath. Like an orchestra we are conductors of our breath.
When you learn to breathe properly it is mind blowing how it can help with so many factors – the biggest one being stress. Decreasing stress is of course essential for brain health and in turn can assist in the possible prevention of Neurological Diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
There are many beneficial ways to help your breathing so this week I made it my mission to learn some new & valuble techniques to Breathe for a Beautiful Mind.
Day 1. The perfect breath
I had the most breathtaking meeting (literally) with Tania Clifton-Smith from Breathing Works who in the space of 30 minutes showed me how to breathe correctly.
I quizzed Tania – what is the perfect breath? My new found breathing guru explained that we should breathe from the lower chest and abdomen. An adult at rest ought to have a rate of about 10 to 14 breaths a minute, and exhalation should be longer than inhalation and finish with a short pause. Most importantly, breathing should be through the nose rather than the mouth. Tania had a wonderful analogy of how we have breathed in the past from bygone days when in the Victorian era women were fully corseted up and only fainting and smelling salts got them through. Somehow we have kept the corseted breathing approach and now it is time to undo the ties. This is very much part of western culture holding in our bellies with the aim to have a flat stomach,Tania has witnessed first hand you would definitely not see breathing from the chest in African cultures.
The basic technique is relatively easy, it is keeping up with it that is a little bit tricky but like learning something new you have to put in the effort until in time it becomes second nature. At Breathing Works they give you green dots to stick around the house where you’ll see it regularly, on your phone, on the steering wheel of your car and even pop them on your computer.Tania asked me to pretend I was on a laptop and I immediately brought my breath up to my chest and raised my shoulders which in fact I am doing right now writing this. Note to oneself to pick up some green dots tomorrow. Every time you see the dot, breathe out. Relax your jaw. Breathe in through your nose and then out of your nose. Pause. Allow the next in-breath to gather naturally, like a wave gathering in the sea before it flows up the beach.
I asked her for one handy piece of advice and she said – “If in doubt – breathe out” . When we breathe out we send a message to the nervous system to relax, improving peripheral blood flow and especially blood flow to the brain. A low, slow and rhythmical pattern through the nose will reduce stress, restore balance in the body and allow clear rational thinking.
I am certainly booking in for a full consultation to really suss out the power of breath. As Tania said once you have mastered the technique then breathing as an exercise in the likes of yoga and meditation will flow easily.
Day 2 . Pranayama
Pranayama is a yoga practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force. My heavenly yoga teacher Dana often incorporates it into our class however this week I was lucky to have a one-on-one on how it works.
Danya showed me the basics of pranayama which is breathing through alternate nostrils. This very simple exercise is known as Purification of the Nervous System or Nadi Shodhona Pranayama. It is very calming and purifying.
How to do Pranayama
Position: Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet firmly on the floor. Or sit cross legged on the floor.
Repetitions: Begin 10 rounds with breathing through the left nostril and 10 rounds breathing with the right.
Here is short video where Dana will show you the basics of Pranayama.
If you would like a one on one with Dana please click here to find out more website http://www.danalouisestewart.com/
Day 3. Meditation
I have practiced meditation for years but have not been getting the full benefits as my breathing has not been correct. With deep breathing in meditation, you can reverse symptoms of stress instantly and create a sense of calm in your mind and body. When you breathe deeply and slowly, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the stress response in your body. It also stimulates the main nerve called the vagus nerve—slowing down your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and calming your body and mind.
Here’s how to do basic mediation.
- 1. Sit upon the floor or cushion with legs crossed (lotus pose).
- 2. Straighten your spine, allowing a slight bow in the small of the back.
- 3. Chin is tucked under slightly toward the chest.
- 4. Mouth is kept closed.
- 5. Tongue rests on the roof of the mouth with tip of tongue barely touching the back of upper teeth.
- 6. Breathe through your nose.
- 7. Release any tension held in the shoulders.
- 8. Hands are cupped in the lap in meditation mudra.
- 9. Eyes are kept closed or open while gazing downward onto the floor at approximately 45 degree angle.
- 10. Silently count or use a mantra allowing any mental thoughts or images to drift away.
As I can become easily distracted I find a meditation app helps to guide me and I highly recommend Head Space.
Day 4. Kirtan Kriya
Kirtan Kriya is a type of chanting meditation from the Kundalini yoga tradition. Although it is a meditation it involves singing and hand exercise by touching your finger tips together. It is believed in Eastern culture that the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while making the sound sa, ta, na, ma stimulates 84 acupuncture points on the upper palate. This causes a beneficial bio-chemical transformation in the brain. In addition, Western research has revealed that utilising the fingertip position in conjunction with the sounds enhances blood flow to particular areas in the motor-sensory part of the brain. Clinical findings has shown that practicing Kirtan Kriya for just 12 minutes a day can improve your memory and increase brain size which really caught my attention. It has the ability to reduce stress as it can lower your cortisol levels while increasing blood flow to the brain. It has been highly recommended by many Alzheimers prevention and awareness groups. By far the most exciting gold nugget is that Kirtan Kriya can increase your telomeres which is basically your DNA and the longer your DNA the longer you will live. For me personally I love that it helps with sleep, can also reduce depression, increase clarity and of course has the potential to keep Alzheimer’s at bay. As I am easily distracted so this meditation is perfect for me as the singing keeps my mind still. It is now part of my daily routine and I highly recommend it.
How to do Kirtan Kriya?
- Repeat the Saa Taa Naa Maa sounds while sitting with your spine straight. With each syllable, imagine the sound flowing in through the top of your head and out the middle of your forehead (your third eye point).
- For two minutes, sing in your normal voice.
- For the next two minutes, sing in a whisper.
- For the next four minutes, say the sound silently to yourself.
- Then reverse the order, whispering for two minutes, and then out loud for two minutes, for a total of twelve minutes.
- To come out of the exercise, inhale very deeply through your nose, stretch your hands above your head, and then bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you breathe out through your nose.
With your breath work in Kirtan Kriya you breathe in through your nose but in this case you breathe out through your mouth as you chant which happens automatically.
It is wonderful for me to do with my mama as I feel she benefits from my somewhat bad singing/chanting too! The finger positions, are very important in this. Here is a little demo of Mum and I on how to do Kirtan Kriya.
For the full 12 minute version by the guru Nirinjan Kaur please click here
If you watch babies or animals breathe, you will notice that they breathe with their whole bodies, their bellies rise and fall with each breath. For some odd reason, we stop doing this when we outgrow nappies. No one really knows why but I was fascinated to observe that my mother now breathes through her nose and the subtle rising and fall of her lower chest and tummy. I wonder if through her Alzheimer’s Disease she has forgotten how she breathed when she was stressed and has reverted back to the way she breathed as a baby?
I am delving back in time to my first breath and hope to continue as I did when I was born until I too take my last breath for a Beautiful Mind.