The breath and our emotions are interlinked. Whenever we are happy and relaxed, our breath is slow and calm. When we become agitated, likewise our breath becomes restless and uneven. We can even become out-of-breath. With this in mind, managing the breath can be crucial to managing our emotions. A good first step is to become aware of how we breathe, particularly at times when we may be least aware of it. For example, when we are rushing, trying to cram everything into one day, if we simply take some time to observe how we are breathing, we will often find it is shallow and constrained. By taking control of the breath, we usually find we are able to slow down. This is crucial to countering stress and the potential for hypertension.
The primary muscle of breathing is principally the diaphragm (70-80%), along with the intercostal muscles. Having a healthy lifestyle and plenty of rest will help create more ease in the body, allowing the body to breathe better. However, since the diaphragm is such a large muscle – principally a dome-shaped muscle forming the partition between the thoracic and abdominal cavities – it really needs to be exercised just like any other muscle in the body. When underworked and stressed, it becomes less efficient; less oxygen is taken into the lungs and, as a consequence, to the cells of our body. Accessory muscles such as the upper trapezius, sternocleidomastoids and the scalenes have to help with the breathing process. As a result, we may begin to produce symptoms such as fatigue and listlessness. Massage, Bowen and yoga can definitely help with this.
Massage helps to ease the muscle groups. Taking this into account, and whether the quality of our breathing is the primary focus of the treatment or not, the breathing efficiency is often increased simply by having a massage. The Bowen Technique treats the whole body with the practitioner looking for changes beyond just the presenting complaint. However, within the context of a treatment, there are procedures that can definitely help the breathing (the asthma procedure, for example). The practice of yoga teaches us how to breathe consciously. Pranayama, the fourth limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga (ashtanga yoga), literally means control of the life force. Yoga therefore teaches us to be aware of the wave of breath as it moves into and out of the lungs, all the time keeping us aware of our point of contact with the ground beneath us so that we stay rooted and earthed. So whether we are practising yoga, having a bodywork treatment, or just going about our daily life, proper breathing is about being present enough to notice whether we are breathing efficiently. Sometimes all we need to do is pause and see if we are.