In 2002 I was living in a state of constant pain. Every morning I woke up with a crippling migraine, feeling like I had been hit by a truck. Even though I wore a back brace every day, my back ached constantly. I wore a brace for my hips and a splint for my thumb — it was a physical representation of what I felt internally.
I was falling apart internally.
Despite my efforts to relieve my pain, every night I went to bed knowing it was going to be the same story the next day. I made appointments for every type of professional a friend would recommend: chiropractor, acupuncturist, osteopath, naturopath, and the list goes on.
One afternoon I was in my family practice doctor’s office and he recommended I look for other ways I could find relief. I was overwhelmed with so many different emotions that afternoon.
I started attending a meditation group and it was in this group that I discovered the power of working with my breath, I found steady, slow, sustained breathing settled my mind and my body and kept me from thinking about the future. Mindful breathing is now an important part of my daily practice. It is so easy to incorporate into your life! I share specific ways below.
How the body uses breathwork for healing
Science tells us that taking deeper and slower breaths helps relax our body and calm our mind. Our nervous system (brain, nerves, and anxiety) is split into two systems: parasympathetic and sympathetic.
Chronic pain keeps our body in the constant stress of fight or flight, the parasympathetic system. Deep breathing calms your hormones that promote the adrenal and fear responses that our body naturally produces.
As we practice deeper breathing, increased amounts of oxygen are delivered throughout our body and into our brain. This oxygen helps improve mental clarity and helps cleanse the blood to allow greater nutrients be delivered to the muscles and organs.
The breath brings oxygen and energy to every cell and tissues your body. It fuels your body and supports good physical and emotional health and healing.
Slow breathing is one of the best breathing techniques for pain and anxiety as it helps slow your heart rate, and naturally calms all of the systems involved in your body’s nervous response, which may aggravate pain and anxiety.
Breathwork can be done as a formal practice or can also be used effectively as you are going about your day. I love doing it while I am on a walk, or informally anytime throughout the day, even while falling asleep or just waking up. Whenever you choose to do it you will find that it will calm you, and relieve any tension or unwelcome physical sensations you may be may be experiencing.
Maya came to me experiencing chronic pain in her neck and back and she suffered from headaches relating to this. In our first session, we focussed on breathing slowly, gently and deeply for a few minutes.
Maya’s body, mind, and nervous system calmed and quieted. She was able to take a nice deep breath and relax even further as she noticed she felt relaxed and her pain was greatly diminished. All of this from just a few minutes of focussed breathing! This breathing technique became one part of Maya’s daily practice, and as she continued to balance and heal her body and mind she found her chronic pain and headaches greatly diminished. Breathwork is essential to my holistic health and qigong practice, and I use it successfully with every client.
When we don’t use breathwork to heal chronic pain
When you experience pain you may notice that your breathing becomes quick, short and shallow — this leads to poor oxygen intake, more physical tension throughout your body and of course increased pain.
When we are experiencing pain we tend to breathe shallowly, or even hold our breath, which exacerbates the situation and can lead to more pain and related anxiety.
Breathing exercises are an excellent, quick, and easy solution for relieving pain, stress, and anxiety. At rest, we breathe about 18 times per minute; that means your lungs contain stale stagnant energy. This method of breathing is shallow, using only 60 percent of lung capacity, leading to a lack of oxygen and energy.
Breathing slowly and easily through your nose at a rate of about 10 breaths per minute has many health benefits. You bring in fresh oxygen and renewed energy to every cell and tissue in your body.
Breathwork can be done as a formal practice, or it can be used effectively as you are going about your day. I love doing it while I am on a walk, or informally anytime throughout the day, even while falling asleep or just waking up. Whenever you choose to do it, you will find that it will calm you and relieve any tension or unwelcome physical sensations you may be may be experiencing.
Here is a simple technique for you to use:
Take 3 gentle deep breaths down into your belly.
Now just relax into the natural rhythm of your breath.
Focus on moving it easily, slowly, and naturally this way for ten to fifteen minutes. The aim is to slow your breath down to 10 breaths or so a minute, remaining comfortable at all times.
Breathing in this way is a very beneficial practice, and is, in fact, a popular and well-respected method of meditation. Incorporating this practice into your life regularly leads to the same benefits as you would experience as if you were meditating in a traditional manner.