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How To Breathe Coherently In A Modern, Results-Oriented World

Written by: Ciara Jean Roberts, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Breath has been very much in the zeitgeist in recent years. Especially since the release of science journalist James Nestor’s book in 2020 ‒ ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.’ There are countless techniques to explore, which can be both marvelous, on the flip side, contra-indicated, meaning potentially harmful for some.

Woman doing breathing exercise at home.

We all need daily reminders to pay attention to our inner state.


When we land in a steady rhythm with our own breath, there lowers the iron-clad drawbridge of defence and raises the possibilities of deep collaboration.


Pretty incredible, right?


Yet. It remains a huge missing piece in mainstream medicine. As someone who has charted many different sections of medicine, as a girl and a woman, navigating lifelong kidney issues since 4 years old, I know this to be so. And the change that is happening is glacial.


Laying the foundations: The first 3 levers of coherent breath


Coherent breath – 6/6 breathing is when the inhale is to the count of 6 seconds and the exhale is to the count of 6 seconds. This is known as coherent breathing – so-called by life scientist and engineer Stephen Elliott. Sometimes referred to as resonant or universal breath too. How lovely.


In Stephen’s two decades of research and practise in this technique, a rate of 5 breaths a minute is said to be the sweet spot.


Now. The strong caveat here. It is not realistic, nor necessary, to breathe like this at all times. When we’re talking or sleeping, this changes. 20 minutes daily (and even that in a modern world is very challenging to commit to for many) creates positive effects within the neurobiology of the body that last for the following 24 hours. Stephen says this:


'Coherent breathing is an evolving science: The current understanding is that benefits are ultimately an outcome of improved brain function via enhanced circulation in the brain, this, and care and feeding of every cell in the body.’


Take heart, for cultivating a connection with our breath does not mean a mandatory list of instructions. We’ve been raised, conditioned and even hypnotised in this way. It’s reductive and crazy-making. This is not about another ping on your phone, another app,…no. It comes from within. Your body. Your mind. You. You know, the essential nature that gets forgotten. The body-mind is unified and interdependent, held within the living field of consciousness. To be able to remember the wisdom of intuition and a willingness to feel sensations in our body. Tension is a pathway to discovery. What’s buried underneath those pockets of muscular or fascial tension? This is the somatic aspect that often is missing in a bio-medical approach. We need our intuition.


To breathe well is a vast inquiry. An embodied one. Meaning we need to bear witness to difficulty, pain, suffering, and angst – knowing too, we can hold joy, love, hope, and courage at the same time. This is non-duality. And it requires practise, tending, humour, and ridiculousness. Pruning away the false notions and projections we may hold. We’re not meant to move through life as contracted stress balls. Let’s be more octopus.


Disembodiment has taken over, leaving a deep crevasse of disconnection from ‘the body’ and too much emphasis on ‘the brain.’ How do you feel about your own body? And how is that reflected in the nectar of your breath, perfusing each and every cell?


Be kind in this reflection ‒ so much innate wisdom has been overridden. It can be kindled back to safety and presence again. Change happens in increments. It might be reading this sparks something liminal or barely there ‒ that’s it! Catch those whispers. They matter. Then the seeds of greater confidence and trust in yourself can sprout.


Argh! Where to start?


Let’s go back to the beginning. Tapping into the imaginal realm.


Imagine yourself as a baby.


Perhaps just a few months old. A happy baby (a yoga pose, too!) who naturally entered this world, this body, as a belly breather. There was no tension around your shoulders from hanging over technology, and there were no substance reliances to distract from natural feelings, thoughts and emotions. Just the rich and splendid simplicity of your belly gently rising and falling. A sacred ebb and flow of your breathing. Your body knows this, and it is already within you.


The baby breathes at the belly, the old person at the throat’ Chinese proverb


Breath takes us deeper than cognition. All the ancient texts refer to breath. Breath reveals so much about our character, our inner state, and how we really feel. It’s a deep and always evolving inquiry. For as long as we inhabit a human body, this is so.


In our modern quest to ‘be a great breather’ or ‘must always breathe through the nose when running, the basics are often overlooked. There are always doorways to crack open in our own limiting beliefs. The breath acts as such a powerful catalyst.


When we lay healthy foundations, then the flourishing energies have a better chance to thrive. It is a daily practise as we reside in pluralities and kaleidoscopes, not a linear robotic trajectory.


How to breathe coherently ‒ 3 great foundations


3 key levers to begin:


1. Breathing through the nose.


Working with hundreds of people over the past 10 years of yoga facilitating, this can be easy for some and incredibly challenging for others. Where are you on that spectrum? Let’s look at our anatomy for guidance. The nasal concha has several thin scroll-shaped bony elements. By design. So air can turbinate. This helps to increase levels of nitric oxide, a molecule with important vasodilation and anti-bacterial actions, amongst others. Structural issues in this area might lead to an over-reliance on mouth breathing. Respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD, and allergies can also feel like nose breathing is a lot of work. Only you can know. And with practise and compassion for yourself, this can change. It really can. Trauma responses and emotional coping mechanisms can also influence and impact this.


2. Breathing into the belly.


Perhaps the invitation to ‘take the breath down’ might feel more helpful to you. This is an antidote to anxiety. It reminds the body-mind that there is space, Also, the lower stretch receptors in the lungs get activated. Shallow breathing amplifies feelings of stress and anxiety. It’s layered, nuanced and complex. At the same time wonderfully simple (there’s that non-duality again…) Here, especially, trauma responses can shut off the capacity to take an inhale that feels free and hopeful into the belly. Working with those experiencing high anxiety, paradoxical breathing can develop. Where instead of the belly rising and the chest gently expanding, these areas move in on the inhale. More often than not, this is linked to a traumatic event that, in a safe space, can be allowed to surface, be integrated and understood. Thus, the soothing of the somatic nervous system is key in healing trauma. It might be trauma, or it might be prolonged periods of intense stress. Your breath is telling you. The question is, are you able to listen? That’s a great inquiry to start with.


3. Breathing at an even rate and rhythm.


6/6 might feel too much at first. Depending on your unique circumstances at present. Start perhaps with 4/4. Or start with simply noting the current quality of your inhale and exhale. Very different cellular signals happen as we breathe in and as we breathe out. Profound effects across the landscapes of our nervous system.


It’s really ok and important to let yourself just explore. Let there be an open curiosity. Notice more and more what situations, people or foods change the feeling, the cadence of your own breath. This is becoming your own wise adventurer. The realisation of patterns, to then interrupt them. To self-regulate is embodied empowerment.


If you notice you are becoming fixated, or your anxiety is worsening because the mind is objecting and making you feel wrong or inadequate, just let the technique go and simply bear witness to what you feel.


Truly know this – practise, and all is coming.


A free resource for you:


For practise and support, tune into the Wholly Aligned podcast episode ’20 minutes of guided coherent breathing here.


Follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter and visit my website for more info!

 

Ciara Jean Roberts, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ciara Roberts is a writer, yoga facilitator and nutritional therapist, with a pioneering spirit to create true and lasting change across the landscapes of holistic healthcare and medicine. Founder of Wholly Aligned, an innovator, quester and cross-pollinator, borne from the lessons and adventures with her kidneys, which failed at age 14. Charting several years at a young age on dialysis, two kidney transplants and a treasure chest of tools, she is uniquely placed as an insider/outsider to effect change in the current embedded systems. Stepping away from banking in 2012, she has dedicated her life to helping others awaken their inner physician and reclaim their innate sense of wholeness.

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