Are You Breathing Correctly to Calm Your Mind and Body?

breathing deeply

We all breathe all the time, but do we know how to breathe properly? Take a normal breath in and then exhale.  How much air are you taking in? Dancers, actors, meditators, swimmers, athletes and yogis all work consciously on their breathing as it is vital in order to perform well.   Every time you breathe, you nourish your body and brain, so it’s very important to understand the health implications of not breathing properly and how this impacts on your emotional, physical and mental wellbeing.

Most people breathe from their chest and this contributes to neck and shoulder tension, because you are constantly using the muscles in the top half of your body that are not intended for breathing.  Breathing from the lower half of your body – known as belly breathing which involves the bottom half of your ribcage moving and your belly expanding – is reminding your body of how it is designed to work.  To effectively combat stress, you need to breathe in this way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (aka your body’s relaxation response).

In addition to its calming physical effects, activating your body’s relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. With regular practice anyone can reap these benefits.


Why has our breathing become inefficient? 

Why has our breathing become inefficient?  Stress – we’re constantly rushing, multi-tasking, overthinking, overdoing it and feeling overloaded. We do everything fast: we walk faster, eat faster, talk faster and we age faster! Consequently our breathing is constantly in fast mode, it’s shallow and quick.  This has terrible health repercussions because every cell in your body needs oxygen, therefore many illnesses are caused or made worse by a lack or imbalance of oxygen. Breathing from your chest underutilises your diaphragm so that your exhalation becomes very passive and instead of using your exhalation muscles, you simply let the air out.  Even though it may feel normal for you to breathe this way, it becomes dysfunctional because the exchange of oxygen to carbon dioxide is out of balance. You could inhale more fresh air if you exhaled all the stale air out more fully each time.

Sub-optimal breathing contributes to:-

Cognitive problems ~ less oxygen = concentration difficulties and memory problems.

Emotional problems ~ depression and anxiety are worsened by shallow breathing.

Acidity and inflammation ~ increase in and longer duration of pain.

Spinal health ~ using incorrect muscles to breathe causes neck & shoulder tension.

Low energy ~ shallow breathing delivers less oxygen to the cells, leading to cells having to prioritize survival over growth and repair.

Hypertension ~ breathing badly constricts blood vessels which can lead to higher blood pressure which in turn makes the heart work harder.

Digestive difficulties ~ breathing muscles stimulate peristalsis, the wave-like motion of the intestines that promotes digestion and elimination. Without this internal abdominal massage, symptoms such as constipation, bloating, gas, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome increase.

Poor sleep ~ shallow breathing switches on your sympathetic nervous system (aka ‘fight or flight’ response) which impairs deep sleep.

Teach yourself how to belly breathe

Breathing correctly leads to better oxygenation and also works your core more efficiently leading to stronger muscles.  Teach yourself how to belly breathe using the lower half of your body to expand in a subtle 3-dimensional way on the inhalation – feel the bottom half of your ribcage, your lower abdomen, the sides of your waist and lower back all expanding and learn to contract those muscles a lot more when expelling all the old stale air out when you exhale.  Simply practicing mindful belly breathing little and often throughout the day will remind your how to breathe properly, and by changing your breathing you will be able to improve your wellbeing and learn to control stress – not let it control you.

Caroline x


How You Can Develop Resilience

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Have you ever wondered why some people are able to cope with distress more ably than others?  This subject has always fascinated me as I do a lot of work around strengthening resilience with clients who come to me for support.  Resilience can be described as the ability to bounce back or recover quickly from setbacks.  It’s actually all about your ‘survive and thrive’ instinct and it develops from the start of your life as your brain processes or learns from experiences to keep you safe and alive.

You learn your earliest strategies of resilience in infancy, through interacting with your parents, caregivers, and others who are close and influential to you.  Attachment theory provides an explanation of how the parent-child relationship emerges and influences subsequent development.  In the 1950’s British psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s theory of attachment showed that as babies, fear drives us to seek reassurance and protection from someone who is older, wiser, stronger and able to help.  He found that ‘early attachment bonds with parents affect the formation of our “internal working model” of self in relation to others.’ 

In other words the way that parents respond to their baby encodes into its brain the internal working models and rules of coping by 12-18 months of age.  So when a parent repeatedly responds sensitively and appropriately to the baby’s needs by smiling, holding them gently, and speaking empathically to them, this forms the basis for an attachment that is safe and trusting.  If parents repeatedly respond calmly to a baby’s cry, changing their nappy and feeding them, the baby learns to soothe itself.  The baby learns that when it calls for help, that call is answered and solutions to problems do exist.  The baby gets a sense that “I am important.  I matter.  I am loved.”  This is fundamental in establishing the basic patterns of resilience.   As that child grows and develops it feels valued and understood which leads it to trust its own competence and cultivate the ability to bounce back.  As the child matures and continues to learn strategies for communicating its needs, and more importantly, feels deserving of having those needs met, they feel the bonds of trust and love.  These patterns of response then become the brains template for their lifetime.
What we have to bear in mind is that our parents didn’t always get it right and did the best they could with the knowledge and experience they had at the time.  They also would have gained that experience and learnt their coping strategies from their parents and so on and so on. Fortunately, you have an innate capacity for continuing development of resilience and you can change old patterns of response.  So if you did not initially learn these patterns of response for developing resiliency, as you grow older and become an independent adult you have more and more opportunities to learn this through interacting with other resilient people: role models from life, history and literature, peers, mentors, teachers, partners, therapists, coaches, etc.  Over your lifetime through interactions with the above people you can learn how to think outside the box, solve problems more efficiently and handle disappointments and upsets more capably. 

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Neuroscientist Donald Hebb said: “Neurons that fire together wire together.”  This means that each time you have an experience, good or bad, whether it is an external event (something that happens), or an internal response to the event (your feelings and reaction) the neurons in your brain fire to send electrical and chemical messages which reinforce pathways in the brain.  As an experience is repeated the neurons that fired together to create the pathway tend to fire together again, strengthening that pathway and this prepares the brain to respond in the same way each time it encounters a similar situation, creating stronger patterns of response, or wiring.

When you repeat a pattern often enough this is what neuroscientists call conditioning. Conditioning creates automatic habits and stores those patterns of response in your unconscious memory enabling you to respond automatically.  We can deliberately use conditioning to create positive habits of resilience.  For example you can choose experiences to deliberately rewire your brain to cope better.  Although the initial wiring of your brain is based on early experiences, your later experiences (especially healthy relational ones) can undo and overwrite your early learning.    It is from your experiences with others that you learn how to calm your nervous system, remain level headed in times of crisis, trust yourself to make good choices, and use your resources wisely to increase your options for coping. 

This is where my skill as a coach can be restorative in helping to change insecure attachment bonds by providing unconditional support to my clients.  By offering a quiet, non-judgmental space and deep listening I will support you to access your deep-rooted patterns of response that formed early on and assist you to reform new and more beneficial patterns of resilience.

It is helpful to remember that it is not the external trigger, but rather your internal response that is important for resilience.  You will find that often you cannot change the external trigger that creates stress, but you can do something to change your internal responses to those stressors.  You can learn to rewire old patterns of response into new, more helpful patterns that will enable you to cope differently and more resiliently to anything.

Wishing you well

Caroline x


Self-Care ~ Nobody Needs You More Than You Do

self care

Nobody needs you more than you do.  Self-care means taking care of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Are you regularly setting aside enough “me time”? If your answer is no you may be feeling stressed, run-down or overwhelmed. The concept of making your self-care a priority remains controversial because there is a cultural view that selfish is a dirty word.

While self-care may seem self-indulgent it’s not. Taking time out to care for yourself helps to remind you that your needs are important too.  When you neglect your own needs and forget to nurture yourself – spending time only taking care of others – you risk burn out, feelings of low self-esteem and resentment. When you take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually then you naturally begin to care for others too – your family and friends.

‘Me’ time is any action or behaviour that benefits your mental and physical overall health and wellbeing. Regular self-care improves your immunity, increases positive thinking and makes you less susceptible to stress, depression, anxiety and other emotional health issues.  This helps to provide a better work/life balance and it keeps your mind and body more connected and in-tune, which is an essential part of a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Self-care is a very individual thing, so there is no specific prescription for how or when to do it. Mental healthcare professionals recommend taking at least 20 minutes every day to do something totally for you. Below is a list of some self-care actions you can take daily and you can add to it your own list of anything that makes you feel nourished and re-energised.

Choose a few things that you will do daily to make you feel connected, content and balanced:-

Soak in a warm bath.

Have a massage.

Cuddle your pet.

Breathe in fresh air.

Snuggle under a soft blanket.

Laugh everyday.

Listen to your favourite music.

Eat out in a restaurant.

Try a new physical activity.

Do a crossword puzzle.

Read for pleasure.

Call a friend for a chat.

Join a book club.

Try a guided meditation.

Cook healthy, nutritious meals.

Be a tourist in your own town.

Potter in your garden.

Listen to running water.

Burn a scented candle.

Watch the flames of a fire.

Walk bare foot in the grass.

Enjoy gazing at the night sky.

Nap in the afternoon sun.

Watch a movie.

Do arts and crafts.

Practice Mindfulness.

Write in your journal.

Go for a walk outdoors.