As a massage therapist and registered nurse, I am often asked about my thoughts on healthy lifestyle changes. Like many in health professions, I promote balanced nutrition and regular exercise and try to lead by example in my personal life. One of the most overlooked practices in the traditional western medical model that I believe also promotes good health in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms is the use of time tested breathing techniques.
I became most aware of the power of the breath when I added both massage therapy and yoga into my life. When I am in a massage session, I am in tune with my own breathing as well as the rhythm of the client in front of me. Sometimes I encourage people on my table to be aware of their breath and to breathe in to the work while receiving. And those who have studied yoga are well aware of the attention paid to the breath as an integral part of the practice.
In my more recent studies in integrative health practices I have become aware of breathing as a part of our body’s innate healing system, and that when restricted, can lead to dysfunction and disease. We can reverse this process by practicing breathing techniques consciously and regularly. Research has demonstrated some powerful evidence towards the far reaching benefits of breath work in the realms of pain management, heart disease, asthma, menopause, sleep disruption, concentration and digestive challenges to name a few. Many have also found it helpful in managing anxiety, anger and stress. And while I am in no way advocating for the replacement of allopathic medicine, breathing techniques can’t be beat in terms of cost effectiveness (it’s free!) and lack of side effects when it can supplement or substitute for the sometimes toxic drugs used in treatments.
Many of the breathing techniques in use today can be traced back to an ancient Indian science known as pranayama, which can be studied here at Tranquil Space. I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about the power of breath work and receive guidance from a person trained in this work. There are also some simple techniques that one can use to get started and they take only a few minutes a day.
If breath work is new to you, you will want to start slowly, allowing for your muscles to get used to it gradually. Though it will take time to notice results, most important is not the amount of time you spend, but the daily routine; this is how patterns are changed in the nervous system. It is also important to note that you should breathe from the belly rather than the chest to maximize the use of your respiratory system and delivery of oxygen. Here is one simple exercise I use when I start my day and also as a stress release:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and back straight. Loosen any tight clothing.
- Place one hand on your belly and one on your heart; your hand should move out as you inhale and in as you exhale. (otherwise you are breathing from your chest)
- Focus your attention on your breathing without trying to influence it in any way.
- Follow the contours of the breath cycle through inhalation and exhalation, and see if you can perceive the points at which one phase changes into the other.
- Start with a few minutes each day and increase as desired.
Rae Johnson is a licensed and certified massage therapist with over four years of practical experience. To book an appointment with Rae, call the studio at 202-328-9642 or book online.