The positive benefits that you receive from a massage can be prolonged with a very simple, daily breathing practice. The following practice is so easy, yet so powerful. Bringing together the power of breath, presence, and therapeutic touch can and will induce a state of health and well-being, and restore vital physiological functions. You may also want to view this video which will demonstrate using props to support your comfort.
- Get comfortable, either sitting in a chair with your feet in solid connection with the floor, or lie down on your back with your arms at your sides, palms facing up. Feel free to use a small rolled towel under the curve of your neck, as well as a pillow under your knees to create the most comfort possible. Close your eyes.
- Start by not changing anything about your breathing. The first step to changing anything is to notice it as it currently is. What do you notice? When you inhale, where does the breath stop before turning around to be exhaled? In the chest? The abdomen? This could also be a good time to notice any slight shaking, sweating, elevated heart rate, clenching in the jaw, etc. Be in tune with your nervous system responses as they are right now.
- Place both of your hands over the upper chest and collarbones. Feel the rise and fall of this area as you inhale and exhale. Do this for 3-5 rounds of breath.
- Next, place your hands on each side of your rib cage, palms resting on the ribs and fingertips pointing toward each other (toward the midline of your body). Notice the expansion and contraction of your rib cage, front to back and side to side. How much movement is there? Breathe normally, simply observing without judgement, for another 3-5 breaths.
- Place your hands over your abdomen. Notice it ebb and flow as well. Or, notice if it isn’t moving much at all. This is common, so again, no judgement. Repeat for 3-5 rounds of breath.
- Now, begin to choose your breath. Each time you inhale, envision drawing the breath deep into your belly, so your belly expands up into your hands. As you exhale, gently use your abdominal muscles to lightly squeeze the air back up and out of your nose. Practice this for 3-5 rounds of breath.
- Return your palms to each side of your rib cage. As you inhale, expand the breath into your entire rib cage area. The ribs can expand front to back and side to side. Fill the vast space of your ribcage with life-giving air. Exhale, and use your rib cage along with your abdominal muscles to gently press the air back out of your nose. Repeat for 3-5 breaths.
- Finally, return your hands to the upper chest and clavicle area. As you continue directing your breath down into the fullness of your rib cage and belly, notice if anything has changed in the upper chest and neck. Does this area move less? More freely? With less tension? Observe for a final 3-5 rounds.
- To bring the practice to completion, simply return your arms to your sides, palms face up, and notice your overall being. It is likely you have released thoughts about your day, what you have to do this week, what you didn’t get done yesterday. You might feel calm, relaxed, and even sleepy. Or you might feel energized and rejuvenated, ready to get up and go again. Either way, through this simple exercise, you have used your breath to slow the heart rate, release muscle tension, and calm hyperactivity.
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This breathing practice was originally published in Body Sense magazine, Winter 2015. The accompanying video was originally created for the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) Back Pain Summit in October 2015.