Wellness Wednesday: Breath and Balance

holistic fertility health
Photo credit: Pat Young for Lululemon

By Karen Weggler of the Movement Studio

Balance is our true nature. We are comprised of 50 trillion cells all living together in the complex, cooperative community of our body; and that body inherently has the capacity to be balanced. Yet it often doesnt feel that way in the day to day, busyness of life.

Breath is a fabulous way to connect to your body, your centre, and the balance that is our true nature. We take approximately 26,000 breaths a day. We breathe in, we breathe out. Sounds simple, yet many of us dont breathe well, having adopted less than optimal strategies due to stress or poor postural habits which affect our body and mind in a plethora of ways. We need to reconnect with breath to allow it to become the friend it once was one that we can take comfort in and go to for support both emotionally and physically.

Becoming connected to the breath asks that we become inquisitive and bring a quality of attention to it that is investigative and curious. When we experience something differently – really feel and experience it in our bodies rather than just thinking it – we begin to change habits and develop new patterns that might better serve us. Because the way we breathe, or dont breathe, is integrally linked to our bodies neurologically, cellular and chemically, attending to it connects us with these systems in a healthier, more meaningful way.

How did we become disassociated with our breath when it is such a natural happening?

As I mentioned, for many folks, its posture. In our current day-to-day work lives, we sit countless hours in repetitive flexion patterns that leave us collapsed in the chest and overstretched though our back bodies. This affects many systems, especially the movement of our diaphragm. When our diaphragm isnt working well, our breathing patterns change and not for the better! When we cant breathe well, we tend to get anxious, so finding ways to discover our relationship to breath can go a long way to easing anxiety and stress.

Restricted breathing patterns can also be attributed to years spent holding in our tummies. Many women learned to start sucking in their stomachs from a very early age, often in their teens or even earlier, so you may have been doing it for decades! Simply put, constantly, rigidly holding your abdominal muscles is bad news on many fronts. Ironically, holding patterns like this actually weaken your abs.These patterns restrict your diaphragm and compromise your pelvic floor.

Gripping your abs also overly tightens your obliques and locks down the muscles between the ribs as you squish your outer cylinder, thus inhibiting the inner cylinders natural rhythm which includes the free-flowing expansion/contraction of the ribcage. The two ribcage halves are meant to ride the natural wave of lung volume as they expand and condense with each inhalation and exhalation.

To reconnect with breath, one of my favourite exercises is to lie down and imagine my body as a cylinder: the muscular, boney structure of our bodies is our outer cylinder, made up of the soft organs which we can expand and condense through breath to give us volume and shape.

Allow the inhale to expand you in all directions, front and back, side to side, vertically and diagonally. Imagine a balloon that expands equally in all these directions as you inhale. As you exhale, the balloon condenses, coming into your centre and narrowing you gently after the widening your experienced with your inhale.Try placing your hands on your upper and lower belly, chest, ribcage halves, in the small of your back against the surface you are on. Move your hands around to discover where the breath move easily. Where does it feel restricted? If you attend to areas that are restricted by softly bringing a greater awareness to those places, does the breath flow more freely? Maybe yes and maybe no. Just notice what you notice, without judgment and without striving too hard to change it. With practice and patience, your breath will become more familiar.

Many of my mentors have always encouraged a connection to the soft organs because they tend to relate to volume and weight. Volume reminds us that we are three dimensional and weight encourages our relationship to gravity. Finding or rediscovering these qualities can help the body and our breath return to a more neutral, easy, natural state. As our organ systems are intimately connected with the parasympathetic part of the nervous system, allowing a dialogue between the inner and outer cylinder systems can alleviate tension patterns and anxiety. Finding ways to mitigate these states of being is something all of us in our busy lives can absolutely appreciate!

Breath is the physiological support for all lifes processes. The marriage of breath and our body-mind is integral to overall wellness and vitality. Finding ways to breathe easily affords us real freedom, and helps to quiet our busy minds, returning us to a more balanced, systematically-relational, grounded and healthy state. Who couldnt use a bit more of that?