Viewing posts categorised under: Breathwork

The Burnout Crisis in Youth is demanding new energy strategies

Breathwork, Consciousness, Healing / 25.01.2018

The Burnout crisis in Youth is demanding new energy strategies.

Pressure to perform. Constant distraction. Fear of not belonging. Fear of the future. Fear of failure. Heightened emotions. Numbing of emotions. Not feeling understood. No one to trust. These are just some of the themes that emerged from a focus group of young people that we recently organised in an attempt to deepen our understanding of the pressures that they are currently facing.

In recent months, I have noticed a spike in my practice of young people between the ages of fourteen and 21 who are experiencing overwhelming stress and adrenalised energy manifesting as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, neurological disorders and burnout. Symptoms that we were seeing in adults are now being experienced in young people as early as age 12.

Are we awake enough to what is brewing in the hearts and minds of our children?
Are our current social, educational and health systems still in denial about the deep crisis that we face with regards to the wellbeing of our youth? Are we doing enough to understand and adapt to the rapidly changing needs of young people today? Are we really doing enough to equip our children to deal with a world that even we are struggling to understand? How do we even begin to answer these big questions?

Perhaps it begins with us having the courage to face the truth – that we don’t know the answers, but that if we create the right circumstances within ourselves and for them, we can co-create the solutions together.

This is what I have been taught by these bright and insightful young people I have the privilege of working with.

I have learnt that by creating a safe space for them to be heard, not judged and not being ‘lectured’, an opening is created for a real conversation.

I have learnt that by creating spaces that support belonging without conforming, each unique young person can contribute their wisdom and ideas in the most meaningful way.

I have learnt that it is imperative that we keep our children connected to their source of energy, creativity and imagination by allowing enough time to rest, play and sleep.

I have learnt that by retraining the art of relaxation into their systems, and rewiring the original connection to heart and mind, the body’s innate healing ability will kick in. It’s only in this state that nutrients can be absorbed, cells regenerated, and energy restored.

I have learnt that the ‘mirror neurons’ in the brains of young people will reflect the internal state of us as guides and authority figures. We cannot mask our own state of fear. Thus, we have a responsibility to be in integrity with who we are as parents, educators and caregivers and to be the change we wish to see.

I have learnt that the plastic nature of our brains is both a blessing and a curse. The energy of our attention will carve out grooves in the brain that will determine habits of thinking and behaviour.
Attention training, relaxation training, mindfulness and conscious breathing are becoming the ABC of the future, to support ourselves and our children to be heart-centred, authentically energised and courageous midwives of a new world.


How to breathe and 3 ways to correct dysfunctional breathing patterns

Breathwork / 23.11.2015

In my practice, I often hear people saying that they don’t ‘ breathe properly’. Either the breath feels restricted and shallow or there’s a sense that they are hardly breathing at all!

Is there actually a ‘ proper ‘ or ‘ correct’ way to breathe?
Confusion seems to creeps in when talking about the ‘ right ‘ way to breathe and how to practice deep breathing techniques.

Should we be breathing through the nostrils only or in through the nose and out through the mouth? Should be using our belly more? How should our chest be moving ? Should we be sitting up straight or lying down? A yogi might have a different perspective from a martial art specialist . A pilates instructor might disagree completely with a doula or birth companion.

The human body has been exquisitely designed to maintain perfect equilibrium despite the constant changes that occur physiologically and in the external environment. The autonomic nervous system has a sophisticated surveillance system that immediately picks up the slightest change in body temperature, oxygen saturation or if there’s life threatening situation. Signals fire up along the neurological pathways within milliseconds to the appropriate organ and endocrine systems. Actions are immediately executed to keep the physiological systems in balance.

Breathing is one the functions that is regulated through this system. The breathing rate adapts and changes according to physical activity, temperature changes and pH.

If we were living more in tune with our natural rhythms, our breathing patterns would would be unrestricted and flowing at rest . Our breathing would adapt according to our physical, emotional and mental state and according to the body’s needs. The body’s self regulating mechanisms would be intact and untainted by poor posture, stress and emotional baggage.

Amazingly, the breathing is the only autonomic nervous system function that we are consciously able to override. Through conscious breathing we are able to regulate and channel the breath to change our state and manage our natural energy. There  are thousands of breathing techniques that have been used and can be created to improve physical health, support emotional wellbeing and achieve certain spiritual states.

When it comes to breathing at rest , there are a 3 points of awareness that will assist in re- patterning the breath back to its natural state.

1. It’s right under your nose.
The nose has perfect architecture to facilitate the delivery of prepared air to the delicate tissues of the lungs.  It’s aerodynamic design spirals and slows down  the inhaled air so that it has enough time to be filtered warmed and humidified by the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract. Habitual / unconscious mouth breathing at rest is a dysfunctional pattern as this whole mechanism of nasal breathing  is bypassed and one becomes susceptible to respiratory infections. However, there are times when using mouth breathing is necessary . Think of the natural reflexes like yawning, sighing, and when a large amount of air is needed quickly ( after being under water for a long time). And notice that powerful emotions naturally demand mouth breathing ( laughing, crying etc) .

2. Low and slow
A maximum healthy respiratory rate  is between 10-14 breaths per  minute at rest. If the breathing is faster, it could mean that you are chronically hyperventilating. In that case, too much CO2 gets blown off ,  creating a state of acidity —  a breeding ground for chronic illness. Work on breathing techniques where you are consciously slowing the breaths down , breathing from and sending the breaths deep into the pelvis.

3. Fire up the parachute
The diaphragm is a large dome shape muscle separating the chest from the abdomen. At rest it has the shape of a parachute, nestled up under the rib cage. As you fire up a deep natural inhalation, the lungs inflate and the diaphragm flattens, displacing the organs in the abdomen, causing the belly to pop out. As the lungs deflate with the exhalation , the diaphragm moves back up to its relaxed dome shape. This responsive movement of the diaphragm is vital for health. Practice working the diaphragm by lying on your back, placing your hands on your belly and breathing into your hands on the inhale. On the exhale feel your belly button moving towards your spine.

All three of these tips have one important thing in common. They assume and require that you become more mindful of your breathing in general , at different times and in different situations.
Conscious breathing means just that- it means being more conscious of how you breathe. Bringing awareness to your breathing, especially when you are anxious ,  upset or under stress can brief immediate and long term benefits.

” Breath awareness” this a key to clearing your head, settling your stomach and calming your nerves!


Transforming anxiety

Breathwork / 23.11.2015

How readily would you admit that you experience anxiety on a daily basis?
Probably not that easily.  Anxiety is perceived as a weakness, a buckling in to pressure, a lack of coping.  Yet most of us carry anxiety with us constantly whether it be consciously and unconsciously and whether it shows up as a mind ‘ that just doesn’t stop’ , a gnawing sense of unease ,  insomnia or full blown panic attacks. We are anxious about traffic jams, whether we might have cancer, what our bonus will be, work deadlines and  where to go on holiday. We are anxious about what to eat for dinner, whether we have good enough security systems and if whether we should be looking for another job.  Anxiety can become big toxic mess taking us away from who we authentically are. And yet it is a normal natural state that is an important( and often useful)  part of the human experience.  A great deal of energy is depleted in the unconscious attempt to judge, deny, supress and distract ourselves from anxiety, losing the opportunity to channel and transform it into a growth opportunity.
Robert Gerzon in his book ‘ Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety’  describes 3 faces of anxiety that I have found to be really helpful in make sensing of and working with anxiety in our current times.
Natural anxiety: this is the feeling that we experience from the day to day stressors of life. It is relevant to the circumstance and when it is seen for what it is, can be channelled as a force for taking action and making changes. The anxiety usually dissipates  once the appropriate action has been taken. However, if these feelings are judged, suppressed or denied, the energy of the emotion gets driven deeper into the body and the subconscious mind, feeding toxic anxiety.
Toxic anxiety has no purpose. It is like an energy vampire, draining us of life force energy. It is fed by negative belief systems and feeds destructive behavior patterns and addictions. It creates a breeding ground for chronic illness  and appears as a blaming critic in relationships. It is the lens  through which the world is seen as a dangerous and threatening place. Toxic anxiety if left unchecked, may also manifest along the the spectrum of anxiety disorders.
Sacred anxiety is a more subtle form of anxiety that may be difficult to recognize. It takes the form of an existential enquiry or dark night of soul, offering the gift of deeper insight and search for greater meaning and purpose.
Dr Ela’s Top Ten Tips to deal with anxiety : 
  1. Cultivate the skill of self awareness so you can begin to identify what kind of anxiety you are dealing with and can take appropriate action.  A coach can help with this.
  2. Develop the tools  of self calming in time of acute anxiety. Try this breathing technique : Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold the breath( without tensing the body) for a count of 4. Exhale slowly for a count of 4 and hold the breath before taking the next inhale for another count of 4. This is also called ‘ tactical breathing’ .
  3. Have your thyroid , glucose levels and blood pressure checked. Your anxiety may be related to a medical condition that needs to be addressed.
  4. Don’t skip meals. A dip in glucose levels triggers and exacerbates anxiety.
  5. Cut the caffeine. It has been shown that caffeine fuels anxiety. Limit yourself to 2 cups a day before lunch time.
  6. Try to get at 6 hours of solid sleep. Good sleep is the best antidote for rattiness.
  7. Avoid unnecessary exposure to news channels. When driving rather listen to your favourite music instead of the radio. Constant traffic reports and radio news is a great fodder for anxiety.
  8. Soak in a bath with lavender oil  at the end of the day.
  9. Take the appropriate supplements that support your health and lifestyle. Your natural health practitioner can guide you with this.
  10. Release tension. Find an outlet to let go of tension. Exercise is a great way to channel and release the toxicity of anxiety.

The Role of Breathwork in the Corporate Setting

Breathwork / 23.11.2015

The ability to navigate the challenges that the corporate setting presents requires a ongoing commitment to the cultivation of greater self awareness, life mastery and conscious leadership.

Conscious breathing is a tangible and easily accessible skill that can be applied to manage energy levels, cultivate more emotional intelligence, enhance communication skills, sharpen focus and improve productivity. It is a simple and effective tool that should form part of the culture of every conscious company and institution. This article serves as a basic guide to applying breathwork in situations that are encountered in a typical day of a corporate executive/leader.
Situation 1:
Sitting at the desk dealing with emails, designing strategies, planning and executing of tasks, reading documents.
What is required:
A clear focused mind, creativity, lateral thinking processes, logic, concentration.
This can only occur if blood flow to brain is optimized and energy is flowing freely from the lungs and heart to the brain. However, often what occurs is that even though the mind is engaged (narrow external focus) there’s a disconnection to the tension that the body might be holding.
The back of the neck, jaw and shoulders are the common areas where unconscious tension becomes locked. Backache is also a common phenomenon due to lack of awareness of the appropriate posture, and as a result the breathing is shallow or erratic.
This is not a high demand, charged experience, and the body and breath should support a state of calm focus.
Breaths to use:
1. Conscious breathing
The neck should be soft and the breaths open and flowing. When the breathing is re-patterned back to its natural state, oxygenation to the tissues is optimized, facilitating maintenance of natural energy levels. Conscious breathing allows more awareness of posture; the back softensup and the diaphragm moves with less effort. Energy  flows through meridians more easily, supporting and nourishing all the organ and endocrine systems better. Open flowing breaths reminds the body that ‘adrenalized’ energy is not required and non essential functions such as digestive processes and immune support can occur according to natural rhythms and cycles.
2. Regular deep sighs – ” softening sighs “
Take in a long deep slow breath in through the nose or mouth and sigh it out through the mouth. Let the exhale go quickly, softly and completely. Practice doing this in between paragraphs/emails. Use the sigh as a way to release tension that may be building up at the back of the neck, the jaw and shoulders and eyes as you look away from the screen. Use the breaths to become more mindful of your posture. In the one or two seconds that you sigh, you can do all of these activities simultaneously, giving yourself a ‘mini break’ and sending signals to the brain to get out of ‘fight flight mode’.
Situation 2:
Heated exchange with a colleague / Dealing with a difficult client
What is required:
  • The ability to listen to the essence of what is being communicated.
  • The ability to respond rather than react.
  • A way to manage anger, frustration, expectation, and taking things personally.
Breaths to use:
In this context, the breath is used as a tool to create a pause before reacting. It can also be used as a “blow off tool” to release frustration.
  1. It is helpful to practice the soft sigh as the pause and as a way to find your center.
  2. To gain a sense of equilibrium after a heated exchange, take a long deep slow breath in through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth through pursed lips. This a technique is appropriate when it is necessary to gain a sense of control (when you are feeling out of control).
  3. Whereas the above two techniques can be applied in the ‘acute’ situation,’ this technique can be practiced when you have more time and space for yourself. The ‘square breath’ can be practiced by breathing in and out through the nose: breathing in for a count of 4, holding the breath for a count of 4, exhaling for another count of 4 and holding for a count of 4before the next inhale for a count of 4.
Situation 3
Presentation at a meeting/conference/workshop/seminar/interview
What is required :
To project energy, presence and confidence through posture and eye contact. The ability to project the voice clearly.
Breaths to use:
Often in situations like this, there is a surge of adrenaline and cortisol as the brain perceives and gets primed for a ‘high demand situation.’ Use this energy and harness it with the breath.
  • Bring the awareness to where you are holding tension in the body.
  • Do a few ‘sighs’ to relax the shoulders.
  • Take the shoulders back and down and expand the chest.
  • Now bring the awareness of your breath to the belly (solar plexus).
  • This is also your seat of confidence – your power center.
  • Take in a long deep slow breath filling up all 3 breathing spaces (pelvis, belly and upper chest).
  • Contract your abdominal muscles as you exhale forcefully through the nose, pumping the exhales.
Situation 4
Sitting in long meetings
What is required:
  • Keeping the focus on what is being discussed without getting distracted.
  • The ability to see the big picture, to make contributions that are inspired, clear and logical, and to communicate them in a way that is clear and concise.
  • It’s also important here to be aware of how to use the breath as a listening tool.
Breaths to use:
In this context, simply become aware of how you are breathing as you are listening. Once again, use the conscious open longer breaths as an opportunity to pause, reflect on, and integrate new information, and before presenting your point.
Other opportunities to practice conscious breathing:
Begin to use the “in-between moments” in your day to practice conscious breathing and mindfulness.
For example: when walking between meetings, or when walking to the toilet. (Even peeing is a great opportunity to practice breath awareness!)
As you begin to wake up to the power of conscious breathing and cultivate more mindfulness in your working day, you will notice an improvement in concentration, energy, productivity, communication skills and overall wellbeing.