As you read this, register whether you’re breathing through your nose or mouth. Is your breath light or heavy, shallow or deep, into your chest or your belly, fast or slow?
Is your inhalation stronger than your exhalation or the other way around? Is your left nostril clearer than your right?
Are you finding you’re holding your breath or that your breath is stuttering?
I was led through this process of ‘checking in with the breath’ by Luke McSwiney, a breathwork expert and guide, to mark the launch of a new breathwork app released by bath/body/home fragrance brand Verden.
Free, without ads or commitments, it’s a resource anyone can access through their smartphone.
Breathing is one of those things many of us give little thought to. Which is remarkable considering how crucial this unconscious, instinctive process is.
Breathing well can improve everything from mental health to physical wellness, insomnia and exercise tolerance.
‘There are so many different ways we can breathe and that’s because the breath is deeply intertwined with the nervous system,’ says Luke. ‘We have three nervous system states — “fight or flight”, “freeze” and “rest, recovery, feed and breed”, which is our natural resting state.
‘A classic fight-or-flight breath would look something like breathing in and out of the mouth, shallow, into the chest, fast and heavy.
A freeze breath would likely incorporate some involuntary breath-holding or breath-stuttering, and a natural easeful breath is likely to be in and out of the nose and deep into the diaphragm, slow and light.
‘This last one is really the framework we base our breathing practices around, particularly in and out of the nose and deep into the diaphragm’.
Are you a mouth breather? If so, change.‘Nasal breathing is optimum because the nose infuses the blood with nitric oxide, which makes breathing easier and blood flow better,’ says Luke. ‘It’s good for heart health and also filters the air, meaning any pathogens, bacteria or viruses in the air are cleared better by breathing through the nose than the mouth.’
And belly breathing into the diaphragm matters because most of the air sacs in our lungs are in the bottom third.
‘The diaphragm is a parachute-shaped muscle,’ says Luke. ‘As we inhale, it stretches downwards, and when we exhale, it releases upwards. This helps the digestive organs and heart work more efficiently but it also activates our vagus nerve, which has a very calming effect on the body.’
Verden co-founder Charlotte Semler’s interest in the breath began through struggling to meditate at the start of the pandemic. Eventually she found her way to breathwork and started out by doing ‘ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening’.
Luke approves. ‘Even doing ten or 15 minutes of practice every day — five minutes, three times a day — makes a difference,’ he says. ‘It’s such a good way of staying mindful.’
Within weeks, Charlotte could hold her breath longer, felt calmer and slept better. Take a deep breath and give it a try.