Breathing, the most fundamental function of the human body, has never come easily to me.
My cleft lip and palate meant that I also had an impaired nasal airway and while subsequent rhinoplasty left me with a somewhat less wonky nose, it did little to improve my ability to breathe through it.
As is common with children born with cleft, I developed a habit of breathing through my mouth, and despite numerous attempts in recent years, by yoga instructors, personal trainers, and meditation coaches to teach me to breathe through my nose, I’m still a mouth breather.
For a long time, I didn’t pay much attention to my breath, until about two years ago when three blood clots lodged themselves in my lungs, making it very painful to breathe at all.
It took me six months to recover from this unexplained case of pulmonary embolism, and during that time I finally came to appreciate and pay attention to the simple yet fundamental act of breathing.
Once the blood clots had dissolved, and I was able to breathe and move around again without any painful fits of coughing, I made a conscious decision to be more mindful of my breath.
I started attending a pilates class to help my body regain the strength it had lost during the months of physical inactivity, and it wasn’t long before I began to feel the benefits. Above all, pilates turned out to be of enormous help to my breathing; not because of any particular breathing instructions but because by opening up my chest area and improving my posture, my breathing naturally became more effortless.
With regular pilates practice, my breathing improved and so did my emotional well-being. The more I paid attention to my breath, the less anxious and stressed I became, which made me understand just how fundamentally connected our breathing is to the state of our physical and emotional health.
Even though I still breathe through the mouth a lot of the time, I’m learned how to change the nature of my breath to help still the chatter in my mind and to find a point of stillness.
When stress and anxiety get the better of me – something which still happens with regular frequency – I know it means I’ve neglected my breath. As much as it irks me when I hear people saying, “relax, take a deep breath [or two, or more],” I now know from personal experience that deep breathing into my belly, is the best remedy against emotional stress.
What I didn’t realise at first, however, was just how essential a regular breathing practice is for my sense of wholeness. I’ve since discovered that there’s a direct connection between the state of my breath and my sense of wholeness. When my breath is shallow and laboured, I feel disconnected from my true self, while deep, conscious breathing through my belly makes me reconnect to my innate wholeness.
You don’t have to practise yoga or mindfulness to appreciate the benefits of healthy breathing. All you need to do is sit down somewhere quiet and comfortable and pay attention to your breath for a few minutes. It will be the best spent minutes of your day.