Seven steps to happiness part 1 – breathing

Everyday life is full of pressure and stress, and it’s all too easy to find ourselves relying on unhealthy (and unhappy) habits. To help you learn to adopt newer, better ones, every Sunday for seven weeks we’re publishing our seven steps to happiness mini-programme.

Created and written by Katie Phillips, the programme features a series of blogs that teach you how to get out of your head and stop dwelling on unhealthy thoughts, and learn how to get back into your body again and be physically present.

In this, her first blog of the seven week programme, she teaches us how to breathe properly.

How to breathe

Air is our life force, and breathing is a natural flow of energy. However, when you spend too much time over-thinking, you can trap valuable energy in your head, and allow it to fester and turn negative – starving your body of the health and vitality which would be released if that energy was allowed to flow down into and through you.

However, you can learn to release that negative energy and convert it into positive energy simply by focusing on your breathing.

Why yoga is so good for breathing

Yoga is a brilliant way to master an awareness of your breathing. It also increases the anti-stress hormone, prolactin, and the well-being hormone, oxytocin – which is low in those suffering depression. The other great thing about yoga is that it works with your mind, body and spirit – a one-stop-shop, if you like!

There are a variety of breathing exercises that take quite some skill and concentration at first, but if you practice them regularly you’ll soon notice your mind feeling calmer, and an ‘aliveness’ in your body. The techniques range from alternate nostril breathing and pranayama, to circular breathing and even upside-down breathing.

To be honest, I have personally found it hard to master most techniques, and just the thought of working out which ones to pick is quite overwhelming. Instead, I have perfected two techniques for my own meditation which are SO simple and easy to learn.

‘I am breathing in’, ‘I am breathing out’

For my first breathing technique, you need to sit upright, slow your breath and focus entirely on your breathing as you silently repeat this mantra:

  • As you inhale through your nose, silently say ‘I am breathing in’.
  • And as you exhale through your mouth, silently say ‘I am breathing out’.

It’s hard for your mind chatter to interrupt when you are solely focused on repeating those words in your head. I recommend practicing this technique for 20 minutes (longer if you have the time, though I know most mums probably don’t!). I find I get the best results if I do 30-45 minutes.

You may find that playing nice, calming music or sounds of nature in the background helps. If persistent thoughts bother you, gently say to them that you understand they are important and that you will pay them attention later, but right now you are focusing on your breathing.

You may probably find that after really relaxing into this exercise, you will feel so great and so back in touch with ‘you’ that those bothersome thoughts suddenly won’t seem so challenging, and you’ll be able to deal with them much more easily, at the right time.

The straw

For my second technique, sit quiet and upright and imagine a straw running from your perineum straight up through your body and out of your head. Imagine you’re sucking air from the bottom of the straw right up to your head. Suck up the air as slowly as you can and as the air passes through each area of your body, imagine you are sucking up every single tension, worry, anxiety, uncomfortable energy and difficult memory until they all build into a pressure cooker in your head.

Hold your breath there. Hold it and hold it, allowing the negative energy to really, really build and then forcefully blow it all out through the roof of your head, with a big sigh of relief.

Repeat this several times until you feel like you have moved all the negative energy out of your body and are feeling calm. I often find that tears of relief flow when I do this exercise, as I move from my head back into my spirit and it feels so good to get back ‘home’. Once you reach that place of calm, it’s the perfect opportunity to allow yourself to slip into a lovely meditation and spend some time at home with your true self. Magic!

Make time for you – and see the results

I hope these breathing exercises help you. As a working mum myself, I know how tough it is to prioritise your own needs and make time for something as ‘selfish’ as breathing exercises. But by keeping your mind calm and trouble-free, you’ll have more energy and clarity to deal with everyday life, and be able to address challenges quickly and more easily – with better results.

See you again next week when we get physical!