Breathing regularly has been shown to improve health, but what about wellness? Breath work is a common part of many methods such as yoga, meditation, hypnosis, relaxation routines, and more.
Most people focus on the inhale, with the emphasis placed on diaphragmatic breathing. This is important, but much of the release of tension comes from the exhale. Sighing is the ideal way to exhale to release tension, something that we all intuitively know. If I’m working with someone to release muscular tension and we come to a muscle group that needs some extra help relaxing, I have them give a nice sigh of relief timed with the relaxation. I often invite my clients to relieve themselves while on my table. Some learn how to relieve themselves discreetly out in public places too.
Sighing can be used as you relax into a stretch, at the moment a particular manual therapy technique is used, or during the relaxation phase of a contract-relax technique like PNF.
Here’s a drill you can practice right now to feel how controlling your breathing can make a big difference. Go ahead and go into any gentle stretch you want to. It could be a hamstring stretch, a calf stretch, a yoga pose, anything. As you go to engage the stretch, leisurely breathe in like you’re yawning first thing in the morning. Slowly fill your body up with air as you stretch and then hold this for a few seconds. Holding your breath will highlight some of the tension in your muscles which you’ll soon release. After a few moments, smoothly release your air and let out a long contented sigh. Feel the tension you were just focusing on release. This release of tension will allow your body to go comfortably further into the stretch position. Allow yourself a couple of normal breaths in this new position. Then you can repeat the whole process again, yawning to inhale and engaging the stretch. Hold for a few moments and notice any muscular tension. Then sigh out and release that tension, letting your body settle gradually settle into the new stretch position with relaxation.
You can use this sequence to stretch any part of your body or direct your clients to breath this way while you perform a manual therapy technique such as a muscle energy technique or myofascial release.