Tired of endless bad news and the pandemic finish-line moving further away, everyone I know is restless. “We were just young and restless and bored,” lyrics from my all-time favourite song, Bob Seger’s Night Moves, nails the sentiment (aside from the “young” part).
Listening to the song’s lyrics again for the thousandth time, it dawned on me that restlessness is a natural feeling. It prods us forward and encourages action. But too little of it breeds complacency. And too much of it creates anxiety, which is what “restless” is to many now.
To still restlessness, we can focus on our breath.
“The missing pillar in health is breath,” James Nestor explains in his new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. “No matter what we eat, how much we exercise, how resilient our genes are, how skinny or young or wise we are – none of it will matter unless we’re breathing correctly.”
The ancient yogis knew all about the benefits of breath, and now, scientific research has caught up with them in illuminating its virtues. ‘Breathwork’ has become the latest trend. ‘Breathe better.’ ‘Breath is medicine.’ ‘Just breathe.’
But according to Nestor, how we breathe is making us sick! “Scientists discovered that 90 percent of us are breathing incorrectly and that this failure is either causing or aggravating a laundry list of chronic diseases,” he warns. “By the law of averages, you will take 670 million breaths in your lifetime.” So maybe we should learn how to do it right?
Nestor provides insights into what breathing better entails and lessons to do so. While the book is fascinating, there’s a more straightforward way to tap into breathing’s magic elixir without having to learn anything new.
All it takes is to revisit a skill we learned when we were young — humming. Yes, humming your favourite tune may be the easiest way to gain all the benefits of ‘breathwork!’
My yoga teacher is a strong proponent of humming as a way toward calm and stillness. She might ask us to hum during a yoga pose as a way to slow our breathing and tap into our parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the body’s stress response. Humming is a natural and immediate technique to feel more relaxed and grounded. In other words, less restless.
As the pandemic creeps ever-more slowly along, I will hum Night Moves and dream about “summertime, sweet summertime, summertime.” ‘Breathwork’ at its simplistic best.