This is our article on why breathing is important, which was published in Rider's Mind's.
HOW ARE YOU BREATHING?
An odd question maybe or perhaps one you had never considered before? Read on to find out how useful having an awareness of your breathing can be.
Take a moment to notice how you are breathing, right now, as you are reading this.
Is it fast and shallow or slow and deep? Does your upper chest move or all of your chest and maybe even your belly area? Are you breathing in and out of your nose or your mouth or both? Perhaps you are not even sure where and how you are breathing? It may sound obvious that of course you are breathing, but until you become aware of how you are breathing, you will not realise how big an impact it can have on your wellbeing.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE HOW YOU BREATHE?
Here is where things get even more interesting. Because your breathing tells you everything about the state your body is in and how you feel at that very moment in time e.g. relaxed or tense. But what is incredible, is that we can change that state through having an awareness of our breath.
Your breathing is autonomic (involuntary). Without getting too geeky, your breathing and emotional state are symbiotic with each other. How you breathe has a direct correlation to your emotions, and your emotional state influences how and the rate at which you breathe. Its reactions are led by the emotional part of your brain; the limbic system. This is all without you being aware and before you know it, you are breathing much faster than you need to be, and this results in you feeling anxious or stressed. It is a very quick chain of linked events.
Heightened emotions like stress and anxiety come as a result of this faster and shallow breathing. These emotional states are connected to the Sympathetic part of our nervous system (responsible for getting our body prepared to do just that; fight or escape, fright and flight). On the flip side however, full, slow, diaphragmatic breathing helps trigger our Parasympathetic nervous system; our rest and digest mode - where our body is in a state of relaxation and calm.
By this very nature, we can learn to override our autonomic system and our bodily emotional state simply by learning to control our breath. The first step is taking notice of how you are breathing; to become more aware.
HOW DO YOU INFLUENCE YOUR BREATHING?
So, if you find yourself feeling anything but settled and calm, perhaps in an anxious or stressed state. Pause. Take note of how you are breathing, tune in and think about the length of your exhale versus the length of your inhale. If you can, close your eyes and inhale through your nose for five seconds and exhale through your nose for 10 seconds, or longer, for at least a minute or even longer.
If you can’t hold an exhale for 10 seconds, work on the measure that you try to double the length of your exhale to inhale e.g. two and four, three and six, four and eight etc. Try it now and see how it makes you feel. Eyes open also works well and then you can use it without people even knowing what you are doing.
The longer exhale helps to activate your Parasympathetic nervous system, the nervous system which, as mentioned above, is connected to the ‘rest and digest’ part of your central nervous system, so you will be sending cues to your physical body that it’s time to be calm and this will give you the time to break the chain of what may feel like a growing discomfort in your chest, jaw etc.
Even just a few short rounds of breathing like this can have immediate impact on your body’s systems. Allowing you to feel back in control of your feelings.
The best way to get good at this? Practice! As often as you can, so that it becomes a natural check-in with yourself. Remember the central nervous systems fire up even before your brain registers they are. You know that feeling of a dry mouth and then you realise how nervous you are, your physical body will often have reacted to your emotion before you are aware.
WHY BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE RATHER THAN YOUR MOUTH?
Simply put, the nose was designed for breathing, your mouth was designed for eating. Your nose was created to draw in oxygen and importantly filter, what comes into your body via the nasal hairs, steady and regulate the air flow and warm the breath. Your mouth has none of these abilities. Mouth breathing also contributes to dehydration as you breathe a lot of air out when breathing through your mouth, it is just like a gaping hole and better for eating and talking.
Breathwork is not only fascinating but instrumental to our wellbeing. Building awareness is the first step.
In ‘The Riders Programme’ our movement, mindfulness and breathwork programme is designed specifically to meet the needs of those connected to the equestrian world. We spend time educating and training you on how to breathe more efficiently and effectively for your wellbeing and also for an aerobic advantage, but that’s for another day. Just to give you a taster of what we are talking