Stress & wellness: Harnessing the Power of the Breath for increased creativity

By Emily Harrison

It may sound odd to be starting the year talking about something as simple as breathing…after all it’s a function that happens automatically and we generally don’t pay much attention to it unless there’s a problem.Breathing is the first and last thing we will do in this life. Yet so often in our modern world and day-to-day “busyness” we will inadvertently find ourselves holding our breath or squashing our breathing ability as we hunch over desks or slump in chairs.I’m the first to put my hand up to it!There are times I catch myself, looking anxiously at the clock as a writing deadline looms only to realise I’ve probably turned blue. And that lack of oxygen going to the brain sure won’t be fuelling or helping any creative channels to flow! On the contrary it will be firing up the stress response and before long a state of internal global warming will be in full swing.What’s worse is when I sit back after the ‘sent’ button has been pressed and sigh “well I can finally breathe again now!” Cripes, only now …oh dear, what a waste.

There’s an old saying that suggests ‘it is not the number of years that matter but the number of breaths.’ So let’s make these breaths count and help fuel our creative potential.

Our natural stress buster The breath is our most natural, free and on demand stress buster we have…if we use it correctly. By breathing properly and fully we:

  • Recharge and energise by increasing oxygen levels and removing waste.
  • Exercise the diaphragm muscle (a dome shaped muscle at the bottom of the lungs) which gently massages the internal organs of the abdomen region.
  • Switch off stress or anxiety states and restore calm and balance.
  • As we breathe correctly it quietens the mind and you are more likely to perceive more clearly and have a steady accurate focus.

Yogis have known the power in, and of, the breath for some time.

But we don’t necessarily want to levitate or walk on hot coals. We simply want to reach our full healthy, creative potential as human beings.

And we can do that by maximising our control of the breath and its life force or vital energy qualities – this is what the Chinese call the flow of ‘Chi,’ the Japanese refer to it as ‘Ki’ and Yogis will call it ‘Prana’. It is essentially the ‘X-Factor’ that we take in from our air (as well as food and water) that gives us the zest for life and brings the mind and body into balance. It is abundant and free and we can all make the most of it through breathing.

How do we do this?

Taking a few moments to pause and check in to your breath can make a big difference. Also scan how you may be sitting or standing – is the spine straight and shoulders relaxed?

Below are some different techniques you may like to try to focus your breathing.

Remember it’s important never to practise tension (we have more than enough of that!) If the exercises don’t flow smoothly then don’t stress – just the act of stopping, being aware and taking a few deep breaths will bring benefits.

Calming Breath – this focuses on slowing and lengthening the exhalation or ‘out’ breath, thereby turning off the red alert alarm and switching on the parasympathetic nervous system which restores harmony and balance.

  • Begin by inhaling for one count and then release the breath over two counts.
  • Once this feels comfortable lengthen the inhale to two counts and exhale over four counts. Continue for a few rounds before releasing the technique.
  • If you are someone who likes visuals then you may like to add the image of sunshine filling and energising your body as you inhale (I like to think of it as champagne bubbles!) and as you breath out send out any tension or tightness.

Belly Breathing – full deep breathing starts deep in the abdomen, but in a stressful situation or if we’re hunching for long periods then we can restrict this movement and short shallow breaths become the norm. To restore the deeper rhythm you:

  • Begin by inhaling and send the breath deep down into the abdomen area, seeing it expand like a balloon.
  • As you release the breath, the belly contracts back down, just like a deflating balloon.

Just think of how a sleeping newborn breathes or even a lazing cat or dog – it is our natural way to breathe. It’s also a great one to do at night to help still a busy mind.

The challenge I find is remembering to use such techniques to restore the inner balance at times of stress or pressure. But the more I practise and the more aware of my tension triggers the easier it is becoming a ‘better breather.’

So, creative women out there imagine the possibilities of greater mental clarity and wellbeing and take a moment to give some thought to the power of your breath.

Emily Harrison is a yoga teacher, writer and communications adviser with a passion for health and wellbeing.  She encourages people to discover the vast potential and possibility that lies within each and every one of us. In 2012 she takes a leap of faith out of the corporate world and further into her writing and teaching... which will mean a new website coming soon!