A trend I’ve been seeing lately with my physiotherapy patients is altered breathing patterns – not using the diaphragm properly and instead breathing up into the tops of the lungs. It’s an area I’ve been trying to learn more about, so when a serendipitous offer came my way, I jumped at the opportunity to have a taster session of a technique called Transformational Breath with the lovely Allison Lindsay of School for Wellbeing.
Allison is a business psychologist who specialises in using Transformational Breath to help her stressed clients to relax and to get in touch with their bodies and emotions.
She explained that everyone breathes in their own unique way. The way that we breathe can be influenced by both cultural and familial conditioning, and we often learn to hold our breath at times we feel fear or when we don’t want to feel. This closes down our ability to experience life, as we often remain on unfeeling “auto pilot”.
Interestingly, I’ve had a couple of patients tell me recently that they’ve caught themselves holding their breath in stressful moments.
Allison asked me to lie down on a blanket on the floor, with my back propped up, and pillows under my hands. She explained the breathing technique, which feels very strange. With Transformational Breath, you breathe with your mouth wide open (my jaw is tight so I found this difficult – Allison handed me a mouthpiece which I had to keep in my mouth throughout the session). This isn’t about how to breathe normally – this is a “therapeutic breath” which aims to train the torso and use the whole of the lungs.
As we started, Allison asked me to close my eyes so that I could concentrate on the technique. The inhale part of the cycle is long and Allison prodded various parts of my torso, encouraging me to direct my breath to different areas; the exhale is fully relaxed (not a forced “out breath”). After a while, I was surprised to find that I could take much bigger breaths than I had ever thought possible, and Allison said she had spotted that I breathe mainly towards the bottom of my lungs rather than spreading the load evenly.
Mouth breathing through a tube isn’t easy. My mouth dried out very quickly and I struggled because I couldn’t lick my lips with the tube in place. Allison told me to focus on something else, that the sensation would pass… she’s partly right, but I suspect I also partly cheated by breathing through my nose as well as my mouth (sorry Allison!)
Part way through the session, when I was getting the hang of the technique, Allison asked me to kick my feet and thump the pillows as I breathed. This felt very odd, but afterwards I could feel the breath going into new and different areas of my lungs, as though they’d only just opened up.
Later, towards the end of the session, she got me making a long “aah” sound. My lung capacity usually isn’t fantastic, but I think an opera singer would have been proud of the length of the sounds I produced (if not the quality… I blame the dry mouth!)
At the end of the session, we did a quick relaxation and I came very close to dropping off to sleep. Apparently this isn’t an uncommon reaction, though many people also experience a rush of emotion, whether tears or laughter.
Allison says Transformational Breathing can help with issues such as stress and anxiety, insomnia, asthma, ME and headaches; can help you feel more vital and alive, and can help you to increase your body awareness. I certainly found that I slept very deeply that night and woke up feeling extremely refreshed – and, after practising it for a few days, my shoulder felt looser when I played tennis.
All in all, it was a tremendously interesting experience and I was genuinely surprised at how good I felt afterwards. I will definitely be suggesting it to people with odd breathing patterns, as a method of “resetting” their patterns and awareness.
Transformational Breath usually takes around 6 sessions to learn properly, but if you’d like to try it for yourself, or would like further information, contact Allison at 07738 008562 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org