After my professional football career ended abruptly due to a sever neck fracture in 2013, a profound transformation took place, and I began the search to rediscover myself. I was lost without purpose, and a lack of self-awareness. Most of my adolescence was focused on physical development, and I did not understand the importance of mental development. Good luck getting 15 year old me to meditate.
Along the journey to rediscovery, my grandmother suggested I try something called qigong to help me manage my pain rather than taking pills. Basically, qigong (chi-kung) is a moving meditation that emphasizes breathing, and connects you to the rhythm of nature while restoring inner balance. I became fascinated by our body's ability to heal itself and was determined to learn more. During my study and practice of qigong, I went on a trip to Utila where took my level 1 freedive course. Up to this point I had no idea about freediving other than the few times I went spearfishing with my friends. I had never felt truly peaceful like this before, and my love for water was reignited with a new perspective. So this connection between the breath and my passion for freediving began to evolve as I went deeper into the rabbit hole. I know you probably didn't need the backstory, but I felt that it gives context to this blog. So, here it is. Simple and effective techniques to help develop your breath awareness. If you already know about these techniques, then let this be a reminder of their importance, and inspire you to continue using them to keep your foundation solid.
1) Belly Breathing-
The first simple breath practice that you should incorporate into your daily practice is belly breathing. Dedicate at least 3 - 5 minutes a day where you make belly breathing a priority. You may try this sitting, standing, or lying prone. Inhale through the nose, and exhale. out of the mouth. Focus on the area just below the navel. As you inhale, let the belly expands outwards comfortably, and as you exhale the belly contracts towards the spine. You may want to gently place your hands on the belly to give you an indicator of whether or not you are in fact breathing into the belly.
2) Alternate Nostril Breath -
This next simple breath practice is one of my favorites. It is great way to clear the nasal passage and restore balance, and has been around for thousands of years! Try this practice sitting upright in a comfortable position or lying prone. This practice is much easier than it sounds. Check my Instagram page for a video on this practice.
- With the right hand use the index finger and the middle finger to rest on the bridge of your brow.
-Then use the thumb for the right nostril, and the ring and pinky for the left nostril.
-Close of the left nostril and inhale gently through the right nostril. You may experiment with different lengths of breaths. The goal is to achieve equal parts for both nostrils.
-Close the right nostril, and exhale gently out of the left nostril.
-Keep the right nostril closed, and then inhale with the left nostril
-Close the left nostril, and then exhale out of the right nostril
-This completes one cycle of Alternate Nostril Breathing
3) Pattern breathing-
Two common types of pattern breathing are the square and triangle. Think of each line as part of the breath. Get into a comfortable position either laying down or sitting upright. It might also be helpful to have a stopwatch in front of you to keep track, otherwise I like to listen to the beats of my heart for pacing.
For this exercise, you may find it easier to exhale out of the mouth, especially at longer intervals. You can practice regulating the amount of air flow by using the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
For the square breathing pattern start with a count of 4. For example, Inhale 4 seconds, Hold 4 seconds, Exhale 4 seconds, Hold 4 seconds. The triangle breathing pattern is the same except there is only one breath hold at the end of the exhale. Inhale 4 , Exhale , Hold 4.
It is fun to experiment with these two as you play with the numbers. For example, Inhale 8, Hold 8, Exhale 16, Hold 8. This can become quite difficult as you might imagine, and is an excellent way to build c02 tolerance. The one I have used the most is as follows. Inhale 4 seconds, Hold 4 seconds, Exhale 8 seconds, hold 4 seconds. Typically I will do this in bed before I go to sleep.
That's it! Simple exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine that will help build an awareness of your breath, and help create balance within. Thank you for reading, and let me know how it goes.