breathingOxygen is perhaps the most important element needed by the body to function and survive, and yet if we are so dependent on oxygen, why are so many of us unaware of how we breathe? We can gain an understanding of the structure and function of the human body, but for some reason, so many of us do not breathe deeply enough, or stop to take deep breaths when needed. In fact, people will often hold their breath when it would be more helpful to be breathing!

The human body is an amazing organism full of intelligence and wonder and by working with it every day I love getting the most out of each massage for every client that I see. Oxygen is essential to the metabolic function of all cells. The lungs provide oxygen to the whole body and stimulate the lymphatic system by deep breathing. Humans can survive days without food and water but only minutes without oxygen. One of the most important aspects of a good massage is to help clients breathe correctly to relax and ease them through any discomfort they experience.

April Plowman, an experienced licensed massage therapist in Arizona, has this tip about breathing:

Just a few deep breaths can help you reduce stress and stay healthy. To get the most benefit keep your back straight and take anywhere from a few full, deep breaths to a few minutes of them.

This type of breathing reduces stress hormones and activates the “rest and heal” nervous system, having many of the same benefits as massage. It helps keep you calm, focused and can increase your energy level.

Many people I see for the first time as a massage therapist are experiencing high levels of stress and shallow breathing. Shallow breathing lowers oxygen levels in the body and can even increase those stress levels at a time when you should be trying to lower them. Consciously focusing your mind and taking time out of each day to practice daily breath work is important to give back to your body for both emotional and physical health. I have seen my clients’ quality of life improve by simply incorporating a few minutes of breath work exercises into daily routines. Conscious breathing helps people to stay in the moment and creates a balance between body and mind  What people often find is as soon as they take just a few minutes to stop and focus, they realize just quite how many areas of their body they are holding tense. Who’s familiar with the tense, rounded or hunched shoulders? The aching, tight neck? Hands that seem to clench as soon as you think about something else?

How would you like to learn a simple technique that will take your experience of your massage up a notch – inducing greater relaxation, stress-relief and pain relief? Breathing is the key. It’s one of the simplest things you can do to increase the effectiveness of your massage, and can be used at any time during the day to relieve stress and tension in the body and mind.

Think about your breathing right now. Without changing how you’re breathing this moment, evaluate your breath. Are you breathing shallow, pulling air only a little into the lungs? Do you primarily feel your rib cage expanding and collapsing with each breath or do you feel your abdomen expand each time you breathe? The deeper you breathe into your lungs, the more relaxation you’ll feel. Deep breathing lowers heart rate and blood pressure and elicits a relaxation response in the body.

Deep breathing, like yawning, is contagious. While you’re sitting next to a child, a spouse or loved one, take a deep breath. Take a long time to inhale and exhale out in a very relaxed manner. Chances are the person you’re next to will take a deep breath. If it doesn’t work with one deep breath, try three or four. I use this in sessions all the time.  I don’t often verbally encourage my clients to breath. Instead, I take a deep breath while I’m working on a client, and usually, that elicits a deep breath from the client.

Deep breathing suggestions:

During the inhale; try to pull the air down into the lowest part of the lungs. Expand your belly and push it out as your lungs fill with air. If it helps, place your hand on your belly and try to push it out with your breath.

Pause for a few moments before you start your exhale.

To exhale, open your mouth and breathe out. During the exhale, try to push all of the air out of your lungs. Bring the belly back in and keep exhaling until your lungs are empty.

Wait a moment and repeat. If you start feeling light-headed take a break for a few minutes.

When you’re in a massage, take 5-10 deep breaths several times during the session. You can do this every time the therapist starts to work on a new part of the body. Try to work with the therapist and time the flow of your breathing to match the flow of the massage. As the therapist leans into the body of a muscle or any tight areas, try to exhale and release all the tension you can. In between strokes as the therapists lightens the pressure take a deep breath in. It seems to be a common reaction when the therapist finds a tender spot to breathe in and tense but this actually only makes the area more painful to work with. By exhaling and focussing the mind to relax the area, it helps the therapist ease through layers of tightness and give the muscle a really good stretch.  You will benefit by releasing muscle tension

 Advanced Breathing Techniques

To take yourself deeper into relaxation/meditation with this exercise that combines breathing and body awareness.

Take a deep breath in as before, pulling the air down into the bottom of your lungs. Check in with the muscles of your scalp, head and face. See if any feel tight, restricted or tense.

Pause for a moment.

On the exhale, let your muscles in your scalp and face relax. Feel the tension of your forehead, your eyes, your cheeks, and your jaw all leave  your body with the exhale.

Take another deep breath, this time let the tension fall away from your scalp, head, face and now the shoulders. Continue the deep breaths, slowly releasing tension as you work your way down the body. Let your arms relax, your chest, your abdomen, your pelvis, your back, your lower back, your hips, your legs and even your feet relax.

Deep breathing is an easy way to talk the body into relaxing. Even when you’re in the middle of a huge rush or stressful issues, a few deep breaths will make all the difference. It makes an amazing difference when used to melt into the table during a massage. The results can make your next massage your best one yet!

So the next time you get uptight over the stresses of the world, just sit back and take a few slow deep breathes to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. After a minute or so you may find that stress has melted away!  Such a simple way of supporting your immune and nervous systems in one go.

Here are a few more exercises to work with


Invigoration Breath Exercise

Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose. This is also known as the “breath of fire” in yogic traditions. Breathe in and out equal in time. You will quickly move your diaphragm in and out. Make sure you are sitting up straight and your spine is extended. If done correctly, you should feel invigorated after this exercise.

Tensions Release Breath Exercise

Sit in a relaxed position. Inhale slowly through your nose counting to seven. Let the air out of your mouth, counting to 10. This is a simple exercise that calms the nervous system. As you are breathing, pay attention to any stress or tension in the body. Focus on that area and release tension and stress as you breathe out.

Sleep Breath Exercise

Close your eyes and imagine a giant ball of light….pick your color. Breathe in through your nose, and watch the light get big. Breathe out through your mouth, and watch the light get smaller. Keep breathing slowly as the light fades away.

Tension Release

Take deep breathe through your nose and hold for 15 seconds. Slowly breathe the air out of your lungs. As you hold your breath, pay attention to any tension or stress the body is holding and focus on letting go.

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