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Just Keep Breathing… How You Can Keep Practising Breathing Techniques In The Wake of Covid-19

man sitting, meditating on a rock

Image by Mark Kraxner @ Flickr

By Hannah Smith, Legends Report Writer

Leaving Lockdown

If the past eighteen months of the pandemic and lockdown has achieved anything, it is the multitude of self-help information that has exploded on the internet. This is now without some merit... The pandemic has affected many lives and mental health has never been more important than it is now. It is important to look after our minds and hearts at any point of our lives, but the pandemic has accelerated a lot of people’s need to learn how to support themselves, often from the isolation of their bedroom.

Many, like myself, have felt the toll of the pandemic and have realised the importance of looking after our well-being and beginning positive practises. Even the recent ease of lockdown restrictions in the UK have brought about their own collection of anxieties, as many people will struggle to get back out into the world with the virus still looming in our minds. I currently work in the social care sector and come into contact with vulnerable people every day, so the freedom to go to events and interact with anybody comes hand in hand with feelings of guilt and accountability for the health of others who are less fortunate. Many other people, young and old, will face these same stresses and will fear for their own health or the health of loved ones. Alongside the anxieties around the physical effects of the illness, there is also the stresses of integrating back into a social world after so long isolated in a house.

“The brain is the most important organ in your body. Just because you can’t see it like you could see a broken bone doesn’t mean it’s not as detrimental and devastating to a family or individual."

 Demi Lovato

It is great that the country is trying to get on with normal life after so long in isolation. But there is a definite toll on mental health that will affect the adjustment of many who are trying to integrate back into society. As we begin to find ourselves in more and more busy social situations, new employment or returning to in-class education, it is essential that we find ways to cope with these now unfamiliar situations and the stresses that will come with them.

The Mental Health Foundation describes how important it is to center oneself and focus on the present as we leave lockdown:

‘With regulations changing frequently, and lots of conflicting media discussions, keep focused on the moment. Mindfulness meditation is one way of bringing your mind back to the present moment’.

As The Mental Health Foundation explains, practising mindfulness is a key way to cope with the anxieties that come from the releasing of restrictions. Other than meditation, another way that mindfulness can be practised is through deep breathing exercises and the great thing about learning to breathe mindfully is that it can be used to help us deal with moments of anxiety and stress and regain control over our emotions in that moment.

Studies by teams at Yale and Harvard showed how effective breathing exercises were for people dealing with high levels of stress. In a study where two teams engaged in a highly stressful activity, the one group that engaged in a breathing meditation exercise beforehand were much more apt at dealing with the task: ‘In contrast, the SKY Breathing group held steady in terms of breathing and heart rate, suggesting the program had instilled in them a buffer against the anxiety typically associated with anticipating a stressful situation.’ This is one of the many examples of just how effective these practises are for any person dealing with stress.

However, it is easy to begin positive practises such as deep breathing techniques with all good intentions, but putting these into practice is a lot harder, especially on a long term basis. Coming out of lockdown is a time to begin to use deep breathing as a means of coping with anxiety and stress, but as life runs away with us once again after lockdown, it is easy to lose the habit as well. This article will discuss how we can keep the long term habit of deep breathing, and how we can integrate these practises into our lives to make sure we can cope with the ever-changing world around us and the personal anxieties that are affecting all of us.

"Deep breathing brings deep thinking and shallow breathing shallow thinking"

― Elsie Lincoln Benedict, woman’s speaker and suffragist.

Healthy Minds And Healthy Bodies  

Have you started to become more aware of your breathing just through reading this article? Good...now...deep breath...read on...

To begin integrating deep breathing techniques into our lives for good, it is helpful to understand the relationship between our bodies and our minds when practising breathing. Harvard Health Publishing explains that a lack of deep breathing can cause detriment to physical health: "The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses".

This shows the importance of deep breathing, especially in the current climate where it’s so important to be aware of personal health and the health of others. Taking the time to understand the ways that deep breathing can affect your health is helpful in maintaining the practice as a part of your physical health routine as well as for mental health.

"Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health."

― Dalai Lama

I have found that practising deep breathing is much more than a coping technique, as it has helped me understand the ties between my mind and my body and how the two work together and affect one another, rather than existing as separate aspects of my being. It has taught me how my own mind has acted as a hurdle as I try to integrate breathing exercises into my own daily routine. Harvard Health Publishing explains how a negative body image can affect the positive action of breathing: ‘body image has a negative impact on respiration in our culture. A flat stomach is considered attractive, so women (and men) tend to hold in their stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing’.

The article goes on to explain that breathing just into the chest to maintain a flat stomach stunts the oxygen exchange within the bloodstream, thus preventing regulation of blood pressure. In a stressful situation this will stop anxiety levels from stabilising. Find out more by reading the article here.

Reading this article was important for me personally as it helped me understand how essential it is to understand how breathing exercises physically affect the body as well as the mind. Having this awareness has helped me to view breathing exercises as a part of living a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, it emphasises the importance of viewing your body and mind as unified -- just as your mind can limit your body’s capabilities and vice versa, knowing that the two work together should be empowering. Using breathing techniques is a great tool in promoting your own body positivity as well as maintaining a healthy mind, and being aware of this can help us keep it as a positive habit for both body and mind.

"Your mind, emotions and body are instruments and the way you align and tune them determines how well you play life"

― Harbhajan Singh Yogi, Yoga teacher and entrepreneur

 

Learn To Use Breathing When It Is Most Important

Research is important! The internet and social media have many sources where you can learn different breathing techniques and find the one that suits you the most. It is important to learn which technique is the best for you and your body. The NHS Inform website explains that having individual time to meditate and practise deep breathing is very important, particularly promoting lying down whilst practising exercises to promote a good posture whilst breathing into the lowest part of your lungs. Read more here.

Obviously during day-to-day life, especially now lockdown has ended, it isn’t always possible to lie down and practise a full exercise when at work or school or on the bus. But spending the time to learn what breathing techniques work best for you will make you more comfortable and confident in using these breathing techniques outside in real life.

It is good to have a routine of deep breathing to maintain it as a lifestyle choice, but it is most important to be able to utilise these techniques when you need them the most.

I have researched different breathing techniques and have found them helpful, but only in environments under my control. Going through a breathing exercise in the comfort of your own house or in a quiet place in public is great, and having a daily routine of breathing exercises will help to maintain the habit long term.

However, the times where you are able to practise deep breathing isn’t always when you need it the most. For me, it is much more difficult to use breathing exercises when it comes to times of high stress and anxiety, especially in public. When anxiety hits in a situation I can’t escape, it feels like everything is going in fast motion; the situation around me and my own thoughts leave me behind, and I can’t seem to catch up. The more I try to keep up with what’s happening the further away the situation is propelled away from me, away from my control. When it comes to the situation that triggers stress and anxiety, I find it very hard to try and partake in a breathing exercise as I feel I have no agency to do it anymore.

I have found that the key to maintaining a habit of breathing exercises for me is by learning to use them when it is hardest, at the peak of stress and anxiety. Learning to do this is different for everybody, but I have felt an improvement since deciding to have a mantra of sorts. When I feel like my mind and my surroundings are spiralling out of control I turn to a few words, a lyric, or a line from a poem that I can say in my head. The words don’t need to mean anything specific, but I have found that having a mantra to repeat in my head gives me something to focus on, and the breathing exercise is able to naturally begin. This will not work for everybody, but this little practise has helped me actually utilise breathing techniques at times when I feel like nothing can help me slow down and face the situation rather than find the quickest way to escape it.

"The greatest luxury of life is peaceful breathing because it repairs the wounds of the cosmic soul"

― Amit Ray, author and spiritual master

 

Learn Along With Others

For some, coming out of lockdown can cause more anxieties and even feelings of isolation than before as we are plunged into a world out of our control that seems to be changing every day. Now more than ever it is important that we have a support network to turn to at times of stress, and having a group of people to do breathing exercises with can be the trigger needed to keep deep breathing integrated in our daily lives.

As mentioned above, I have had a turbulent experience with breathing exercises. Throughout the first wave of lockdown as I was finishing the last year of my degree from my bedroom I found deep breathing great for dealing with my feelings in isolation. However, when my degree was finished and I found employment in the social care sector, it was a lot harder to utilise the same techniques. It felt impossible to stop my daily tasks at work and begin deep breathing in front of co-workers, who might think I was insane.

I had never thought of partaking in breathing exercises with others until earlier this year as I always felt it was an individual practise and I could never focus if I was with others who could be judging me. However, since partaking in group breathing exercises I have found the opposite, as having a bunch of supportive people around me and sharing the experience has helped me center my own thoughts and understand that I am not alone in feeling stressed and anxious with the thought of returning to a day to day life with Covid-19.

So one of the most effective ways of making breathing exercises an integral part of your daily life is by bringing other people into your exercises. Having a community of people to do deep breathing with is a sure way of learning how to utilise breathing so that they can work for you in individual situations. Since beginning to write for The Legends Report, my editors and I do breathing exercises as an integral part of our workshops and brainstorms, and this has helped me to learn how to use these techniques in my life outside.

‘Healing yourself is connected with healing others’

― Yoko Ono

By partaking in a community where deep breathing can be shared and learned between like-minded people, you can often find that you are not alone in the stresses and anxieties of life, especially now that the world is hopefully opening back up for good. Sharing a moment of reflection, sharing a literal breath of air with others around you is learning to open back up to the world and embrace what is outside of the four walls that have made up life for the past eighteen months.

There is a lot to be concerned about at the moment, especially for young people, people who have had their education interrupted and their career paths muddied by the uncertainty of the future. But the future will come regardless of whether we want it to or not, and the act of breathing, especially with others, is the act of accepting that it will come. Sharing this with other people reminds us that we are not isolated and we never were.

Deep breathing will not get rid of your problems, and the stresses of current life will never be expelled along with your exhale. But from personal experience, it helps you to stop and look around, and understand how to live with the anxieties and stresses as we leave lockdown and face the future.

‘That way you will keep anxiety at bay. It will never disappear, but the great wisdom of life is to realise that we can be the masters of the things that try to enslave us.’

― Paulo Coelho, author: ‘Manuscript found in Accra’

 

Please get in touch if you would like to learn more about the benefits of breathing exercises and how you can use them to deal with the easing of lockdown, and life in general. The team at the Legends Report and Lighthouse International have information on breathing techniques, mentoring, and support groups where you can engage in deep breathing exercises with like-minded people. Just reply in the form below or our live chat to find out more. Wishing you all the very best.

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