Breaths for Body, Mind and Spirit
It's central to how we feel, and it's fascinating to know that it's both involuntary and voluntary! We do it when we don't think about it, and yet, we can control it when we want to. Humans have studied the breath for millennia, passing along ancient breathing practices like Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya, and Tummo to modern researchers who are studying ways adjusting our breathing can help heal disease, improve health and fitness.
With one of the pillars of teaching here at Music360 being wellness of body, mind, and spirit, here are three breathing exercises that you can use to improve both short-term and long-term well-being, mental clarity, and focus and ability to navigate through stressors.
These are grounding breath techniques for when you need to recenter or recollect yourself, are short (up to 5 mintues) in length, and you can use them anywhere, anytime, even on stage!
Ready? Let's do it!
For the body, try the "Falling Out Breath"
Try this when you need to release physical tension. Your shoulders bunching up in the middle of the concerto exposition? Release that beast! Also known as the physiological sigh, this breath works by reinflating alveoli (tiny sacs in your lungs) increasing oxygen intake.
1. Inhale as deeply as you can, filling your lungs fully.
2. At the top of the breath, take one quick "sip" of air.
3. Exhale with a HAAAAA sound, releasing all the air from your lungs.
Dr. Huberman, neuroscienst at Stanford University and creator of Huberman Lab, calls the Physiological Sigh “the fastest real-time tool for stopping stress and anxiety.” It slows your heart rate and calms that fight or flight response that always worms its way into your auditions and performances!
Repeat this 10 times before returning to your normal breathing.
For the mind, we've got one of our favorites, the "Box Breath".
This technique is a form of yogic deep breathing used by Navy SEALs, known as sama vritti pranayama it's common name is "box breathing" but is also known as equal breathing, four square and square breathing. Here we go:
1. Inhale to the count of four
2. Hold your breath at the top to the count of four
3. Exhale to the count of four
4. Hold your breath at the bottom to the count of four
Bringing mindfulness to the breath is key to this practice, which brings calm, mental clarity and focus. Do it for 5 minutes and you'll be taming that ball of chaos and overwhelm!
For the spirit, we're going to do the "Emptying Breath".
This technique helps you turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, slows down your heartbeat, and stimulates the vagus nerve (which monitors your organs and feeds information to the central nervous system). Try it:
1. Inhale to the count of three
2. Exhale slowly to the count of six, releasing as much air as you can!
When you want to create a sense of peacefulness, evenness, and positivity, do the Emptying Breath (or any breathing technique with a longer exhale than inhale).
That wasn't too hard, right?
Learning to breathe well can be one of the most powerful tools you have. Not only can you call on these methods when you need them most, but you are also helping your body with a host of positive effects.
Here's a PDF of 9 breathing exercises we put together for musicians (especially wind players - we see you out there!) And if you're curious, here are a few more links to check out:
Huberman Lab Physiological Sigh