At the beginning of the pandemic when we were forced into the first lockdown in 2020, I joined many therapists in offering outdoor therapy sessions. I have continued to offer these as much as possible since then and breath work has become an important focus within these sessions.
The outdoor therapy sessions were focused around, walking, sitting, talking, and exploring in nature which enables us to regulate the soothing system with slowing down our mind, body, and breath.
‘Breath is the finest gift of nature. Be grateful for this wonderful gift.’ – Amit Ray
We cannot underestimate the physical and mental health benefits of walking outdoors in the fresh air, and open space of nature. Within therapy so many strong emotions, memories, thoughts, or behaviours are felt, expressed, processed, and reflected upon through sharing difficult life events past or and present.
Through my compassion focused therapy training I have learnt more about the importance of breath work, about our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems and continued to share this learning with my clients.
Do you recognise a shift of physical symptoms in your body when you feel strong emotions?
Many people I work with can recognise their felt sense shifting, and many people have a heightened felt sense when they feel uneasy, uncertain, anxious, or frightened. This is often described as the flight or fight response.
The sympathetic nervous system is an activator, stimulating the body reacting to threats, which we can get caught up in and the sympathetic nervous system speeds up the heart.
The parasympathetic nervous system acts as the brakes of the sympathetic nervous system, with every breath we can consciously slow down, the heart beats then ease the body back down from feeling over activated to improve heart rate variability.
In nature we can slow down the walking pace which often enables the breath to slow down too. Deepening the breath with the fresh air while watching the leaves blow on the trees or gently fall to the ground which can feel very soothing.
Soothing rhythm breathing is an important part of Compassion Focused Therapy enabling the parasympathetic nervous system to be in balance with the sympathetic nervous system. It works in synchrony with our breathing, our heart rate increases when we inhale and decreases as we exhale.
During many of the nature therapy session with my clients, we have explored breathing styles to see which suit my clients thought patterns best. You see there are so many ways to regulate the breath. Many of which have offered us a sense of feeling more grounded, exploring different ways of slowing down the breath to feel more relaxed while staying alert.
Posture is very important to enable the depth of breath into the diaphragm as we explored feeling deep rooted like the trees, standing firm, strong and confidently held.
We observed many symbolic messages in nature that we could identify getting caught up into our threat systems from that activated our sympathetic nervous system. Finding a metaphor, naming, touching, or observing objects to bring a sense of calmness to reduce the threats and active the brakes from the parasympathetic nervous system.
Capturing these memories in our minds eye, taking photos, participating in sensory walks, imagery visualisations and sitting and observing with a more mindful approach. Mother nature has so much to teach us when we slow down our mind, body, and breath to notice. Playfulness is a way we can be creative and every one of us have these skills as we have all be children and we are hard wired to be curious and connected.
If you would like more information on breath work, I can recommend my associates
Ann Parkinson (BSc Hons Physiotherapy) whose book Dancing through life, a guide to living well features breathing exercises to practice which has wonderful reviews on Amazon
Dancing through Life: A Guide to Living Well: Amazon.co.uk: Parkinson, Ann: 9798676161156: Books
Dr Sandra McCutcheon (Mindfulness Practitioner, teacher, coach, and previous research scientist) Founder of Mindfulness Skills 4 Life
Breathe better: learning how your breath does more than keep you alive (mindfulness-skills4life.co.uk)
Both these friends and associates have taught me so much through our conversations and practices. I have much gratitude to them for their continuous support.
I attend fortnightly Mindfulness practices with Dr Sandra McCutcheon who loves sharing wonderful poems with us. I will end this blog with this poem she shared with us in November 2021.