Conscious Breathing YOUR First Pillar of Self-Care
Did you know I created these 6 pillars of Self-Care, to help you master stress and thrive as you age? I call it the Savoia Self-Care Method.
- Mindset Mastery
- Conscious Breathwork
- Authentic Connection
- Sacred Sleep
- Metabolic Flexibility
- Joyful Movement
For more details on these check out my podcast, blog post What is the Savoia Self-Care Method, or my watch my video on it here on YouTube.
When I asked Anders Olsson, this week’s podcast guest, to rank my pillars, he clearly ranked Conscious Breathwork first because if we stopped breathing, we will die in a few minutes. With every other pillars we can go without, for much longer including food, water and sleep.
Our breath is a fantastic tool to turn to when we are worried or stressed out. In this amazing podcast conversation, we discuss some life changing breathwork skills to help us overcome whatever negative emotions we may experience. I love that Anders connects breathwork with emotions and emotional healing. He argues that we should not suppress negative emotions but to embrace them and learn from them. So I think it’s lovely, how he brings this connection into the whole breathwork experience. This conversation opened up my eyes on a few things, but most importantly not to be so rigid about what’s right or wrong and sort of go with the flow and what works for you.
Anders explains that there are two types of breathing: Activity & Recovery Breathing
- Activity breathing that can also be called stress breathing. How do you know? Well you can begin by asking yourself these questions: Am I breathing fast and shallow? Or am I holding my breath? Do I have a slumped posture? Do I make a lot of sounds? which is actually very common when you start to pay attention to how you breathe. And that means that we are stress breathing and those breaths are really poor. But it’s not always bad, because higher chest fast breathing is a form of activity breathing. It helps us to be more alert and produce more adrenaline especially during what is called the fight or flight response.
- Recovery breathing is a way to wake up your body. How can you practice recovery breathing? Close your mouth, start breathing through nose! Good breathing starts in the nose. The nose is our first instrument towards doing recovery breathing. The nose filters and purifies the air and cleans up a lot of the bacteria and virus and other particles in the air. So if we breathe through the mouth, we’re not only bypassing our first defense system, we’re also taking in cold and dry air further down into the airways, which means they will be inflamed. And inflammation will cause swelling and swollen airways are not a good thing. This will basically send a signal that our breath is threatened and in turn will cause a cascade of events which include signalling to the adrenals to produce more of the stress hormone – cortisol.
The Connection Between Our Emotions & Our Breath
There is a connection between our emotions and our breath. I found this to be so interesting, sometimes we may have emotional blockages like fear, worry, anger or sadness and a lot of these emotions are situated in our stomach area. Anders eloquently explains that a way to run away from these unpleasant feelings is to move our breath higher up in our chest, because if we engage in diaphragmatic (deep belly breathing), we will undoubtedly come in touch with these difficult emotions, and most of us run away from these.
When we engage in a certain type of breath it could take us into a specific emotion. For example, an exercise named the “Anger” exercise or the “Hulk” exercise, where you take a big breath inhale, then hold your breath and adopt the posture of the Incredible Hulk and tense up every muscle in your body in the standing position. Hold your breath and try to psych yourself up into all that anger you feel. By doing this “Hulk” exercise, we go into the amplified anger state and the emotion gets bigger. Then at some point, we will understand where the anger came from, accept it, and forgive it. When we embrace the emotion, we realize that it actually brings us a message and we learn something from it.
That is self-awareness. Being aware of where these emotions are coming from, recognizing it and letting it go ultimately building resilience to these obstacles or challenges in your life. Self-awareness is usually the first step towards change and true transformation.
According to Anders a great way to overcome stress is the breathing anchor or prolonging the exhale. Anders recommends an amazing visual for this. Picture an anchor, imagine you are taking the elevator down from your head into your body. This anchor is sinking ‘deeper and lower’ and this should anchor you. When we are stressed out, fear, worry and anger are not far away. Apply the breathing anchor, recognize the warning signals and do something about it. This will empower you to buy enough time to realize that we are not slaves of these emotions.
The Biomechanics of Breathwork
Do you know the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide is extremely important? Indeed, we benefit a lot from breathing in an efficient way. And the opposite is also true.
We take in oxygen when we inhale and carbon dioxide is produced in the body when we exhale it. However, most of us are breathing incorrectly and often end up with an imbalance between the two specially when we over breathe.
Anders tells us that most people assume that more oxygen is all good but this is not true. Our body doesn’t run better, just because it gets more oxygen, just like a car doesn’t go better, just because we give it more fuel. If a car needs the right amount of fuel, if I’m driving in the city, or if I’m driving on the highway, the fuel consumption is different. And the same with our breath, our breath should, in every single situation, it should reflect the body’s needs.
So what happens when we take in more oxygen, even though we can’t live without it, that’s why we die after a few minutes. Without breathing, we are so extremely dependent upon oxygen. Oxygen is super reactive. If we take a bite in an apple and put it down for a minute, it will start to turn brown. This is the reason why we protect food from oxygen because it is highly reactive. With too much oxygen in our system, there will be more inflammation. Inflammation is the reaction. Metal rusts because it gets in touch with oxygen, so in a way we rust on the inside if we bring in more oxygen. So taking in too much oxygen is definitely not good, because then we will increase the free radicals, which is free oxygen radicals.
Mouth breathing is the main reason why we take in too much oxygen. So mouth reading creates inflammations and it creates narrow airways automatically, you will be in a more stressed state. Taping our mouth at night is one of the bio hacks that I recommend because it’s so easy to do. Some people find it stressful because they are taping the entire mouth, instead we only need to put a small piece of tape vertically.
What is the role of Carbon Dioxide?
Carbon dioxide (C02) also has many important properties. One of them is to relax the smooth muscles, which surrounds the airways in our throat, lungs and blood vessels. Over breathing and inactivity are two ways of lowering the C02 pressure. If we are inactive, the metabolism slows down. And if your metabolism slows down so does your C02 production.
What does this all mean? Well when we lower the C02 pressure to these smooth muscles because they are exposed to less C02, it creates tension in the muscle. There is a tightening up of our airways, and our blood vessels will be a little tighter as well. So basically, our body has to work a little harder, our heart has to work a little harder. We force the breath higher up in our chest because our airways are tighter, and this shallow chest breathing is also problematic and not healthy.
So what can you do? Ensure you’re not over breathing, keeping active and practicing breath holds as a way to build up your C02 levels.
The Connection Between Eating & Breathing
Being a holistic nutritionist I always tell people to take a few minutes before you actually sit down to eat and enthusiastically encourage mindful eating. Before your meal take a couple of breaths and show gratitude for the food in front of you. Anders advises to start with doing three prolong breaths called the breathing anchor or prolonging the exhale, which I explained earlier in this post. Doing these just three times, helps us become more present and reset our brain.
The second step can be to just take in food on the exhale. Anders also explains that there is a close connection between poor breathing, poor eating and poor sleep. The jaw is a really powerful muscle and if we don’t use it enough for chewing, we grind our teeth when we sleep.
Check out my Mindful Eating Breathwork.
To Sum Up:
- Every single breath we take we switch from activating our sympathetic nervous system with our inhales and by extending the exhales we activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
- We want to use our nose primarily for breathing and engage in slow and rhythmical breathing.
- In order to learn to tolerate more carbon dioxide and build our resilience for it breath holds are recommended.
- Avoid using our mouth when breathing especially during sleep, so mouth taping is highly recommended.
- Take 3 slow and deep breathes before you eat your meals and express gratitude.
- Eat your food on the exhales.
- Do not suppress negative emotions and embrace them and learn from our everyday experiences.
- Do not be so rigid about what’s right or wrong and sort of go more with the flow and what works for you.
For more amazing hacks and details on these breathing insights listen to the Self-Care Goddess podcast episode #30 with Anders Olsson.
Learn 5 Ways to Kick Start Your Self-Care Journey at Home? Listen to the Self-Care goddess podcast episode #6.