I’ve been wondering what to write about this month and couldn’t decide, and so I want to thank Eric, one of our practitioner candidates, for sending me these questions and giving me a topic for this breathing report!
Here are his questions:
Nasal breathing versus the sigh of relief and yawning. After I read Nestor, Litchfield and McKeown, I catch myself refraining from sighing and yawning now. Gosh! I am going to lose this precious CO2! I also stopped doing connected breathing through the mouth. Do I have to breathe through the nose as often as I am aware of, and give myself a little treat with sighing and yawning? Is connected breathing through the mouth reserved for a breathing session?
Coherent Breathing and resistance breathing. When I do coherent breathing through the nose on an in 4/out 8 or in 5/ out 10 pattern (and I will try 6/12 soon), I combine it with resistance breathing (ujjayi). It allows a much deeper and longer exhale than just nasal breathing. Is this ok?
Peter Litchfield speaks about ‘negative practice’: to be conscious and become ‘expert’ in a bad breathing habit (chest breathing) when this habit is triggered by a relationship or a situation. Then, we will be able to switch automatically to the ‘preferred’ diaphragmatic breathing. Do I need to be conscious of an emotion rising up, triggered by a situation AND of the changing breathing pattern at the same time (chest breathing)? to be able to switch to a new healthier pattern?
Ok, first let’s talk about Nasal breathing vs the sigh of relief and yawning. Nasal breathing should be our natural unconscious automatic habitual breathing pattern. And we also need to practice deliberately enjoying and celebrating our sighs of relief and our yawns.
When we breathe through the mouth, it should be done consciously, for a purpose, as an exercise or technique. This is very different from an unconscious dysfunctional habit. Nestor, Litchfield and McKeown are focused on the physiological, chemical, and the balancing and stabilizing end of the breathwork spectrum. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the spiritual, transformational, cathartic, and energizing practices.
Unless you have a specific related health condition, there is no reason to avoid practicing in either or both directions. In fact, as Breathworkers, we need to be experienced and comfortable across the whole spectrum, including both extremes. And as Breathworkers, we need to be able to correct any imbalance in either direction. We need to master the ability to quickly breathe our way back into balance, no matter where we are, who we’re with, what’s happening, or how we feel.
When we do a Connected Breathing session, we get to choose which channel we breathe through, and/or we can let the breath itself decide. And, in a single session, we may find ourselves switching back and forth between the two, and so we need to be comfortable with both channels.
About coherent breathing and resistance breathing. ‘Coherent Breathing’ is defined by Dr. Stephen Elliott—who actually trademarked the term—as “Breathing at a nominal frequency of five breaths per minute with comfortable depth AND conscious relaxation…”
Notice that 5 breaths per minute is a 6 second inhale and a 6 second exhale—in other words, a 12 second breathing cycle. Another pioneer and expert on this subject is Dr. David O’Hare (Author of 365: Heart Coherence). He teaches us to practice 6 breaths per minute. That’s a 5 second inhale and a 5 second exhale. So, I think we can see that Coherent Breathing involves a specific range/rate which we can call a therapeutic zone.
If you practice a 4 second inhale and a 6 second exhale, that’s a ten second breathing cycle, so are still breathing at a rate of 6 breaths per minute. This is a very useful practice. You are in the therapeutic zone. But some would say you can’t call it “coherent breathing.”
Inhaling 6 seconds and exhaling 12 seconds, is an 18 second breathing cycle, which is 3.3 breaths per minute—pretty slow for the average untrained person, and it is outside the coherent breathing range. Yet, this is still a very good, healthy, and useful practice.
And yes, it’s a good idea to combine the Ujjayi sound when practicing coherent breathing. It enhances the benefits. And it’s good to integrate Ujjayi into many other breathwork exercises, techniques and meditations, for the same reason.
Finally, Dr Litchfield’s concept of “Negative Practice” is a great training principle. When we make our unconscious habits conscious—when we deliberately breathe in a dysfunctional way—we can more easily feel and recognize that negative behavior when it happens, and we can more easily correct it.
And yes, as Breathworkers we need to be conscious of our emotions when they arise and conscious of what triggers them. We need to be aware of how we actually breathe when we are caught up in emotions, in order to know how to adjust our breathing to shift, manage, or transform our emotional energy.
We can use breathwork to enhance and intensify emotions, as well as to lessen or suppress them. We become aware of our unconscious breathing patterns in order to take conscious responsibility for our emotional experiences. In a real sense, breath control is emotional control.
By the way, I wrote about all this in my November 2019 article called “The Battle Over Breath.” You may want to review it. And here is an interview with Stephen Elliott about Coherent Breathing.https://www.bmedreport.com/archives/10310