Day Five: Breathing techniques

5.30pm. The more astute of you will notice I’m a day late with this one. But instead of beating myself up about it, I accepted that on a day when my part-time job (that is supposed to require three hours per weekday) ends up taking eight hours, then I am allowed to roll my wellness hours over and catch up at the weekend.

So today’s alphabetically organised adventure takes us on an exploration of breathing. A quick search reveals that there are no less than 320 apps for breathing techniques – for sleep, anxiety, yoga etc – and I have been recommended the app Respirelax, which I will look forward to trying. But first I will go local, to my friend and teacher Matt Hill, who taught me Aikido 12 years ago. He now runs the Systema Academy (right here in Melksham!) and when I attended his excellent sessions a few years ago I wasn’t much into the rolling around fighting stuff, but I did learn a lot about breathing. Having forgotten it all, I was reminded of Matt’s expertise when another friend shared a link to his Systema Breath Work Course as a tip for overcoming anxiety. I have just purchased the two hour course (a series of short videos with notes) for a tenner, and I will now give it a go. I’m currently tired and cold, with a bit of a headache, and I’m under the duvet to try to warm up while a gloomy grey sky fills the darkening window. I would say I’m about a 3 or 4 out of 10 for happiness, so let’s see where this takes me.

19.20. I’ve only got to lesson 7 of 32! And I need to pause for the other crucial daily practice of dinner with my love before he goes off to work.

To start off, Matt very helpfully explained the comfort-stretch-panic cycle. Comfort Zone is cosy (where we are here) but there’s not much growth. Stretch is where you are challenged just enough to be alert, learning and growing. If you go too far that’s just panic where you can’t learn, you just shut down, so, thankfully, this course is in the comfy-stretchy zone, providing skills to cope if we arrive unexpectedly in a panic zone.

The emphasis in the videos so far is being able to breathe out slowly while doing things like walking, walking backwards, press- ups and sit-ups. It’s similar to yoga in that you exhale on the difficult bit. The point is to keep a measured steady outbreath whatever pressure your body is under.

My favourite bit so far is the walking breath ladder, first you take one step per breath, then two, and all the way up till you take one slow breath in over twelve steps, and one slow breath out over twelve more. This flat is so compact that the journey of twelve steps takes me from here in the bedroom to the other side of the living room, an event that includes the added perk of a supportive smile from my love on the sofa, before my carefully counted twelve steps back.

And now, one hour in to this course, I think my mood has increased just that little bit to a 4 or 5 of happiness. Baby steps.

11pm. At which point we accept that a couple of hours is only enough for an introductory exploration, as I’m not even half way through these excellent lessons and it’s time to switch off screens for the hour before bedtime.

Fun fact to finish on for today: the nose is for breathing, the mouth is for eating. You should always breathe in through the nose, and if you are doing anything exertive, you need to breathe out through the mouth. Breathing in through the nose is cleaner, gives time to reach the right temperature for your lungs, and is better for tuning in to your environment.

Tomorrow’s lesson is supposed to feature cold showers! But we might need to spend an extra day on breath work. 🙂

Edit: Next day. I have spent more time on this, but still not finished and I don’t want to rush it, so will come back gradually over the next few days.

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