Writing a letter to my vagina-- it’s an exercise that I do periodically and suggest…
I know everyone is telling you to breathe. And I know how annoying it can be. It’s like being told to “calm down” when you’re upset. But here’s the thing: you really need to breathe. So, I’m going to explain why we all won’t shut up about it.
Breathing affects everything in your body.
Everything. Your feelings, the choices you make, and the pace of your day/life are all influenced by the rhythm of your breath. The rhythm, depth, and intention of your breath affect the cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, immune, gastrointestinal, muscular, and psychological systems of your body. So yeah, it’s a big deal.
Think about it. When you feel anxious or stressed, your body tenses, your breathing speeds up and gets more shallow, right? This signals your brain to activate the sympathetic nervous system, a.k.a. fight or flight. This draws blood away from your core to prioritize the response time of your extremities so you can run away from danger.
This shift in blood flow (called shunting) away from your core body slows your digestive system and causes digestive issues. Circulation also moves away from your reproductive system because these “dangerous” conditions are not optimal for procreation.
Being on such a high alert like this alters the state of your immune, endocrine, and respiratory functions. They stop working properly all because of those damn thoughts.
It’s ok though because we can intentionally shift our breathing patterns to take us out of this fight or flight, sympathetic nervous system state, and move into rest and digest. We do this not by “turning off” our anxiety, but by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
An easy breathing technique you can do to activate this is box breathing.
Box breathing, also known as Sama Vritti Pranayama in Hindi, is a pranayama practice commonly used in yoga practices. It’s an ancient ayurvedic practice but more recently developed by a Navy Seal named Mark Divine, who used it to train the military for high-stress situations. Breathwork has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine modalities and continues to be proven effective by Western Medicine today.
Here’s how to do it:
Inhale for a count of 4. As you inhale, feel your lungs, belly, and pelvis fill with air. Notice that the internal volume of your body has physically increased.
Retain (hold, but not in a grippy way) the breath for a count of 4. Take this time to feel the expansion in your body. Notice what feels like it’s gripping or holding.
Exhale for a count of 4. As you expel the air from your lungs, feel your internal volume decrease, feel the pelvis, belly, and lungs all contract and get smaller.
Retain (hold, again not in a grippy way) the breath for a count of 4. Notice how it feels to be in this body with a smaller internal volume. Take this time to explore what feels engaged, held, gripped, relaxed, supported, etc.
Let’s dive in a little deeper on how breathing is the perfect place to start your postpartum recovery.
On a physical level, breathing coordinates the movements of…
- Your diaphragm: the muscle that lives at the bottom of your ribcage, under your lungs like a big parachute
- Your transverse abdominals: the muscles that wrap around your trunk like a corset
- Your pelvic floor: the hammock of muscle at the bottom of your pelvis that holds your insides and inside and is compromised postpartum
During non-pregnant/postpartum life, when you inhale, all of these muscles expand, creating space inside your lungs and body to fill with air. The internal volume of your body increases. This expansion is supposed to happen in 360 degrees.
As you inhale, all of these muscles stretch and release to create space and as you exhale, they engage and contract to expel the air from your body.
Remember when you had a small human in your belly? Well, that baby inhibited your ability to take this type of breath. Your internal volume was already at capacity so there wasn’t enough room for this full, deep, 360 degree expansion. So these muscles that make up your core (diaphragm, transverse abdominals, and pelvic floor) couldn’t move in their full range.
Now that you’re no longer pregnant, it’s time to reconnect to this original coordination and function of this vital group of muscles. Because deep, diaphragmatic breathing uses many small, intrinsic stabilizing muscles, you are actually strengthening the exact muscles you need to support your sore and very destabilized postpartum body.
Box Breathing Intention: PHYSICAL
Practice the box breathing exercise and focus on feeling the coordination of your diaphragm, transverse abdominals, and pelvic floor. If one of these muscle groups feels particularly mysterious right now, focus on that one!
You deserve a deeper understanding of how your breath affects you hormonally. When you’re anxious or stressed or even just hyper-focused on something, your body perceives this as a threat. Your body can’t decipher between an actual threat (being chased by a mountain lion) and one that’s simply a feeling or sensation (trying to figure out your baby’s new wake windows).
To live in this state disrupts not only the nervous system as we discussed earlier, but also suppresses the immune system and causes an imbalance in the hormonal system too. All of which are necessary for healthy recovery and healing.
Our breath can calm this stress response and shift us into rest and digest. The parasympathetic nervous system also does more than alleviate stress and anxiety. It affects the synthesis of protein, fat, and carbs improving digestion and metabolism. It increases the production of cells for immune system activation which we need postpartum. It promotes bone and collagen repair enhancing cellular, hormonal, and psychological processes.
Essentially, we want to break this cycle: stressful thoughts that lead to tension in the body which leads to anxiety leading to poor sleep/poor digestion, hormonal imbalances, muscle tension, etc. and ultimately disrupts all of the systems. All of these can be treated by breathing. BREATHING! Aren’t our bodies incredible?!
Box Breathing Intention: CHEMICAL
Choose something you’re currently struggling with: digestion, poor sleep quality, anxiety, etc. When you notice you are in a moment of struggle, pause and use your box breathing. Allow ease into the exercise. Notice how the struggle shifts. And see if you can track what the impact is over the course of a week.
Energetically speaking, breathing stimulates our chakras. These are the spiritual centers in our bodies. Softening into your body through breath helps you connect to the present moment. It’s a practice in awareness and a chance to connect to and honor your body.
Breathing mindfully can heal your spirit and improve your energy. In fact, it’s regenerating. And yes, we are in the woo woo section of this article, but this is supported by the physical and chemical benefits to breathing too. These Eastern philosophies continue to be proven with Western studies. In fact, Frontiers in Psychology* conducted a study supporting the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing (like the box breath) on focus, stress, and handling negative emotions and experiences in adults.
I find breath to be my way of centering before an important appointment or call, or after a not-so-fun conversation or experience. It connects me back to myself and my body and reminds me that I have some control over my physical experience. This is because while an intentional breathing practice aligns and opens all seven of the main chakras, as someone who is postpartum, it stimulates the sacral and root chakras which support safety, security, and grounding.
Box Breathing Intention: ENERGETIC
As you practice your box breathing, send your awareness to your pelvis. Remember your pelvis? Not too long ago your baby was hanging out in there like a bowling ball sitting on the rack. Heavy. As you inhale, feel the expansion in your pelvis and as you exhale, feel it compress. This will bring attention, circulation, and energy to your pelvis and these important grounding chakras.
But it doesn’t stop there.
As new mothers, there are so many feelings, emotions, relationships, and bodies that are constantly changing. Connecting to your breath can help strengthen your connection to your intuition. It’s the quickest way to shift and open your point of view and increase clarity. And of course, it brings a sense of peace, connection, self-awareness, and self-compassion with a dose of increased vitality.
Are you convinced that breath is THE thing??? Do you understand why everyone is talking about it? Is this resonating? Are you ready to dive in and learn more? Click here to check out our upcoming workshops on the power of your breath and how to integrate them into your life.