Heather Stegmaier, M.AmSAT

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Entries in breath (1)


Please Don’t Take a Deep Breath

Our breath is essential to life. Just like digestion, it is an automatic bodily function that we don’t really need to think about. Or do we? When was the last time you thought about your breath: the quality of it, or how it affects your overall well-being?

As with most things, we don’t bring awareness to our breath until something goes wrong. If you’re feeling stressed out, you take a deep breath to attempt to calm yourself. This creates an on/off switch, going from not thinking about it in general to emergency mode when stressed.

Just as breath is essential to life, the overall functioning of our respiratory system is essential to our well-being. I will show you how you can bring awareness to your breath every day in order to create balance.

Try this now:

  1. Sitting quietly, pay attention to your breath right now. Don’t try to change anything. Simply observe. Are you holding your breath? Breathing shallowly or irregularly? If so, continue to just observe without making any changes.
  2. If you notice you are holding your breath, have a conscious thought to stop holding your breath. Just like sending a wish out to yourself, “I wish to not hold my breath.”
  3. Continue having this thought to not hold your breath. After a few moments, notice if anything changes. Your breath may become more frequent, or maybe you take a nice deep inhale without even trying.

This approach is more gentle for your system than the on/off approach of “take a deep breath” that is all too familiar. Think about it: If you are in a state of stress, your body is tight and your breath is held. Then all of a sudden, you are forcing yourself to take a deep inhale. All that tightness in your body caused by the stress is still present and your inhale is forced through the tightness.

The alternative approach described above applies the principles of the Alexander Technique to create a much more gentle response to stress:

  • First, you are bringing awareness to yourself and observing your breath. This is very powerful and gives you a lot of information about your stress reaction.
  • Second, rather than overriding what is happening in your body with action (e.g. taking a deep breath), you are asking to stop holding. This is like hitting the pause button and giving yourself time to create change. By wishing for not holding your breath, you are giving your body an opportunity to rid itself of tightness.
  • The act of undoing and stopping allows the body to recalibrate and return to its natural state of well-being. The breath will follow because steady breathing is an important piece of our natural functioning.

If you are a singer, actor, or wind player you know this all too well. Your craft relies on your breath. But even so, people who are using their breath skillfully can acquire many habits that can create issues with their respiratory functioning. Tightness and tension can very much interfere with and hinder sound quality.

The Alexander Technique offers many tools to create balance and better functioning surrounding your breath. This leads to overall well-being and feeling good!