The power of the breath, and learning to embrace the ‘Ying and Yang’ in life.

I completed a breath work coaching course recently and loved everything about it.

However my biggest takeaway was a realisation finally of what ‘being at ease’ with life really means.

You see ever since I listened a brilliant podcast with Peter Crone, several years ago now, I think I have ironically been trying too hard to be ‘at ease with life’

I talk a lot about the nervous system in my work, and as someone who has struggled with stress and  anxiety at various points in my life, I enjoy helping people to manage or reduce the stress in their lives. I help people  to explore what helps them to relax and I also share techniques that help them to access the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response) more easily.

Breathing is a powerful tool for switching on the parasympathetic nervous system and many of my clients have found breath-work helpful, which is why I chose to deepen my knowledge and skills in this area.

However, the breathing practice I now use most regularly myself and am tending to share more frequently with my clients is the 4-4 balancing breath.

Our brilliant teacher, Lucas Rockwood, explained so brilliantly the representations of the various nervous system states. I imagine most people are familiar of the concept of the ‘fight or flight’ stress response which is often associated with us the primitive response of ‘fighting or fleeing the lion.’ Some people live in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ which is detrimental to health. However, striving to live in a constant  state of relaxation, which my teacher described  as; ‘the monk on the mountain’, is also neither attainable or functional…

Lucas described a third analogy; ‘the agile cat’ walking slowly through the field, ready to respond to any given scenario…

It’s really important that we are able to take time to relax often, but we also need to be able to access the alert/ ready for action sympathetic nervous system state to respond to our environment and get things done! If we tune in to our natural circadian rhythms we learn that our stress hormone cortisol rises in the morning and wakes us up to get going for the day and naturally reduces in the evening to enable us to sleep.

If we are constantly living in the ‘stress response’ and continually producing cortisol, then we will obviously find it very difficult to relax. However, what is key, is to find a balance between the two nervous system states… the agile cat, or what Lucas describes as the ‘boring middle ground’.

He also explained that heart rate variability; (which measures our nervous system response) is healthiest when it shows a ‘variable’ pattern – i.e. it demonstrates both parasympathetic  and sympathetic nervous system responses. This is why he teaches three different short breath work practices for different times during the day, in accordance with our circadian rhythms.

This is where breathwork can be such a powerful tool. When we make a conscious choice to practice breathwork techniques we can literally change our physiology. Our breath sends powerful messages to the brain and alters our nervous system response. For someone who is living in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ our breath can calm everything down and if our nervous system is low and in need of an energy boost, our breath can stimulate it. Breath work practices can take as little as 2 minutes but, have the power to reset our nervous systems. It is no wonder people find them incredibly beneficial!

However, I think the real reminder here is that ‘a little of everything in life is good’. There is no ‘right or wrong’ .. there is always a ‘Ying and Yang’, and it is finding the balance of the two that is so important.

Real freedom comes with approaching health and wellbeing outside of the ‘all or nothing’ approach.

We all recognize that life can be stressful and that  ‘it is good to push yourself out of your comfort zone’ at times. We all also know how good it feels when we take time to relax.

Making space for both is crucial for our health. However ‘being at ease’ means being at ease with ‘what is’ rather than pushing or pulling against it and forcing situations to be other than they are.

Our feelings, thoughts and bodies are giving us information all the time if we are able to tune in and listen.

I know many people would describe me as a positive person and I wholeheartedly embrace that side of myself. I am very grateful to have been brought up with a ‘glass half full’ approach to life and a daily gratitude practice remains an important part of my routine.

However, I am also finally learning to recognise and embrace the negative emotions that we all experience at times. They are not ‘wrong’ and something to be pushed down, they are just part of the human experience. The key is to acknowledge them and to allow them to flow through us. As my beautiful yoga teacher friend has said so many times.. ‘we are not our thoughts or feelings; they come and go.’

If we look at children, they are so good at doing this instinctively and my teenage son demonstrated this brilliantly recently. Before dinner his brother innocently stated ‘you’re a bit angry,’ and in response he simply said ‘ I am a bit angry, I’m not sure why.’ And that was it. In that simple exchange he acknowledged how he felt, didn’t overthink it, let it go, and simply got on with enjoying his meal.

Children have so much to teach us if we take the time to listen. My children are  the first to acknowledge that everything doesn’t have to be ‘perfect.’

I know that I am definitely guilty of ‘overthinking’ at times, when very often simply recognising and acknowledging emotions is often all that is needed.

So it turns out that ‘being at ease with life’ is about embracing all ‘that is’, ‘going with the flow’ not striving or grasping onto things tightly with both hands and wanting them to be other than they are.

It is about embracing the ying and yang, the ebbs and flow, the ups and down.

I am also learning to notice nature more as it can clearly show us the way so I thought I might leave you with a little story of my own. You see we have a beautiful cherry blossom tree at the front of our house. I look forward to it blossoming every year, yet it flowers for such a short few weeks each year and in previous years I had longed for it to stay in bloom for longer! However this year, I have enjoyed it whilst it was there, but relaxed as it shed the blossom, happy in the knowledge it will bloom again.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have taken something away from my musings…

If you are wanting to make some support making healthy lifestyle changes, or would like to learn more about breath work techniques, please feel free to book a gifted 1:1 session here to discover how health coaching with me might help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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