Take a breath in. And then release it. Repeat this three times.
What did you feel? Where in your body did your breath travel? For most, the breath will be shallow and enter into the chest area and the lungs. This is called “chest breathing” or “sympathetic breathing” and generally goes more with activity and stress. But this is also how we breath day-to-day even when we may not necessarily feel stressed or not doing strenuous activity.
Breath and the nervous system is a symbiotic relationship which means that one will always follow the other. If we are feeling stressed (a nervous system response in the brain), then our breath will shorten. And this works the other way. If we are breathing sympathetically or only in our chest, our nervous system will respond with feeling nervous even if there is no reason to be feeling that way.
We know that stress is deadly and we are surrounded by so much of it every day. A revolutionary study called the ACE Study, or Adverse Childhood Experiences Study which was conducted by Kaiser showed that childhood stress and trauma directly led to health problems later in life like cancer and heart disease. The more ACEs you have, the more likely you are to develop major health problems later in life. Most of us have at least one ACE and are living our adult lives with residual stress from our childhoods. And combine that with the stressors of every day life (job, children, school, relationship, family) and our learned habit of spending our whole day chest breathing, we are living in a constant state of stress! If you are curious how many ACEs you have, please follow the link below:
But there are ways to combat this toxic stress!
Sacral breathing, or breathing into the pelvic area all the way down to the sit bones calms your nervous system and shifts your brain and body into a more parasympathetic state, or more calm and mindful state. This is not to be confused with belly breathing which is what singers use to sing. Sacral breathing is breathing into your lowest chakras to ground yourself and and calm your nervous system. It is the opposite of chest breathing.
Why is this so important? Since our nervous system is existing in a world of constant stress and even if we’re not experiencing external stressors, we are still tricking our nervous system in to thinking we are by the way we breathe the entire day. You may be sitting and reading and feeling very relaxed but your short breaths are tricking nervous system into fight or flight mode.
Since sacral breathing is something we do not do naturally, we have to teach ourselves how breath into our lower chakras.
First, find a hard chair and make sure you can touch your feet to the floor when seated. Tall stools and soft chairs will not work for this exercise.
Second, sit on the edge of the chair so your sit bones are close to the edge. Make sure you are grounded and won’t easily slip-off the edge.
Third, place your hands on your lower abdomen and close your eyes. Start taking slow breaths and imagine your sacrum rocking back and forth. You do not need to actually move your lower pelvis and you may feel it move in a different direction than what you’re imagining and that is OK.
Continue this for as long as you like and as often as you feel you need. If you would like to expand this practice, try doing a visual meditation that involves the colors of the three lowest chakras. You can purchase a meditation CD on this website that would be very helpful for continuing your sacral breathing practice!
The effects of sacral breathing can be extraordinary! Many people often notice that they are able to handle stressful environments with much more ease and clarity than before and are able to to reach new levels of physical and mental stamina. One man, Wim Hoff or also known as The Iceman, has used sacral breathing to reach physical limits that were never thought possible by humans and is currently being studied by many scientists around the world. He holds numerous world records for his abilities and he attributes them to sacral breath work. The VICE documentary on his work is linked below.
Whether you want to improve your overall health or push yourself to new limits, breath work and learning the technique of sacral breathing is the secret sauce to achieving your goals! Please let us know in the comments what changes you’ve noticed with doing breath work!