Breath & Be Calm - Written By Jess Olivieri


"Just Breath.." Ok so it sounds really easy, but we all know it’s not… so let’s understand why. The breath is deeply physiological, the first things we do when we are born is inhale and the last thing we do when we die is exhale. So when we get anxious and feel unsafe we often focus on the inhale – it’s a deeply rooted survival reaction, unfortunately it doesn’t really help, when we breath more we can hyperventilate, which in extreme causes fainting, it also causes you to shallow breath which can have the effect of making you feel short of breath… making things even worse.

That same will to survive can be linked to an anxiety around the exhale, to hold the breath can cause some people to feel panicked and for some (I used to be like this) even to focus on the exhale can cause a sense of unease.

Our overactive world doesn’t help, we live in a world that is all about gathering what you can and holding onto it, a house, a job, a partner, kids pick up on this as well. We are told to work hard, accumulate and what ever you do don’t let go, you could liken this sense of holding it in and keeping it together to the in-breath. Letting go, letting it all hang out or even allowing yourself to fall apart is seen as a big no no, this could be likened to the out-breath.

A difficulty with the exhale means we are not allowing the parasympathetic nervous system (the part that controls our functions of rest and digest) to switch on, leading to an even more overactive sympathetic nervous system (the part that controls our flight/fight reactions), for most of us the parasympathetic nervous system already needs a bit of a helping hand, so a good place to start is with the breath.

I know first hand how hard this can be, I had childhood chronic asthma, the only time I had focused on my breath was during an attack and as and a result as adult had huge amount of anxiety around my breath. Here are some tips to start working with your breath.

Mindfulness of breath - Lay in a comfortable position and observe your natural breath, just watch it without trying to change it. Do this for about 5 min. This is good for older kids, or adults. Good idea to set a timer.

If this is going well try…

Three part breath, anyone can give this one a go

Begin by focusing on your belly, see if you can direct your breath there
Take your focus to your ribs, see if you can feel an expansion on the inhale and a contraction on the exhale, it may time a few goes to feel any movement, it’s still useful just to let your attention rest here
Now take your breath to your chest, for some people this will be a really familiar place to breath, it might also feel uncomfortable as we are essentially encouraging a shallow breath, only stay here for a few breaths
Then put all the parts together starting with the belly, then the ribs and then the chest and see if you can find a flowing rhythm of your own for about 3 min.

This is something I do every day, once it becomes familiar (in yoga it’s thought that we need 40 days to make something a habit) it is also something that you can lean on in times of stress, it will help kick the parasympathetic nervous system into action and keep you calm.

Learning how to make friends with your breath can make a huge difference to your life - I am running a workshop for adults on November 27 at Yoga Village called How to be Calm #1: Breathe, especially for people who find breathing difficult and also for people who want to learn some pranayama (breathing techniques) that they can use in their yoga practice and their life. I'd love to see you there. To book you place click here.

Tips & Thought on Hip Opening

Many years ago I read a magazine article that described our hips as the junk drawer of the body – the place where we store emotions, memories and stress that we don’t know what to do with or that we aren’t ready to address in the current time. I found this extra interesting as often when I would spend an hour stretching and specifically targeting my hips I would feel overwhelmed with emotion, sometimes anger and sometimes sadness. Often I would cry and then after the outburst would feel a huge sense of release. The idea is that when we are feeling any kind of stress (emotional or other) it has a huge affect on the body and its ability to allow energy to flow through it, hence the tightening of some specific areas.

 

At the time I was working in a job that I found incredibly unfulfilling. The office environment I spent a large portion of each day in made me feel a little lifeless and dull and although I enjoyed the actual content of my work I didn’t enjoy so many other factors of being there. This had a huge influence of my life at the time and I experienced repercussions in my body as a result.

 

I had trouble sleeping, my hips ceased up, as a result I started getting back pain, I had also been experiencing some knee pain for some time. A lot of this I put down to stress, emotional stress putting physical stress in to my body. There were a few ways I introduced change in to my life that really helped me combat the problem. Here are just a few:

 

1)   Practice yoga daily…. Seems obvious right? And you might think you don’t have time but all you need is 15 minutes a day to get your body moving and the energy flowing. Try some sun salutations at home before you eat breakfast.

2)   Get out at lunchtime and have some fresh air. Take your break – if you are getting food try to get outside to eat it, or take a short walk . As you walk try to engage your core so your hip flexors don’t tighten up.

3)   To help combat tight hips sit at your desk with your legs crossed. It is so much better for your whole body; your spine will be straighter, your core will be engaged and your hip flexors will be opening. People might think you look strange but who cares? Sit like this when you are at home watching TV or reading.

4)   Stretch a little when you get home. Again, just choose a few stretches that get your hips moving and your spine moving.

 

I am running a Hip Opening intensive on Saturday 16 April. Places are limited so please book in for more info…..

What is Yoga & Why Do We Practice?



There are so many unrealistic representations of yoga in the media (particularly social media) that put undue pressure on people to achieve a certain form to prove that they are good at 'doing yoga'. Yoga is actually not the attainment of a perfect pose, perfect body or perfect looking instagram photo. Yoga is a constant practice, a constant process. As my teacher Sharath always reminds us, 'Yoga is the change that happens within you'. 

This is clearly outlines in the Yoga Sutras

Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah. 
Tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam.

i.e.

"Yoga is the controlling of the fluctuations of the mind
Then the seer rests in its true nature."

The practice of yoga asana and a seated practice of meditation and pranayama help facilitate this change, i.e. they help facilitate the yoga that happens inside of you. Practiced regularly, over time will help strip away the ego to reveal your true essence.

The physical benefits of yoga - i.e. a stronger and more flexible body are a bonus but are not what yoga is actually about. In fact, if they build the ego rather than strip it away then they aren't demonstrating the practice of yoga at all. It's not to say that one who is practicing perfect asana isn't practicing yoga; it is just that perfect asana isn't the end goal. The goal is the process of change that happens to you through the act of regular practice.  

It is my deepest intention to maintain a shala that teaches authentic yoga and remembers that the end goal is to simply see clearly that you are already exactly where you need to be...

I would love to hear your thoughts....