In this blog we explore a new way to become more engaged with how you breathe, whilst releasing tension in the muscles of the face.
This technique applies gentle pressure to the facial muscles and helps open up the nasal cavity, massaging the muscles connected to the jaw where a lot of tension gets held.
Sit with your elbows on your knees, place your fingers on your forehead, your thumbs under your cheekbones and rest your head forward. Now close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing. If possible, breathe through your nose, especially on the inhale. Try breathing in to a count of one and out to a count of two. This aids relaxation and oxygen exchange. As you breathe, move your thumbs in and up under your cheekbones and in small circles.
Now move your thumbs to apply gentle, equal, pressure up and down both sides of the bridge of your nose. This can release blocked sinuses and may feel uncomfortable initially. When you release this pressure, you may be able to breathe more freely through your nose.
Step 1: Place your hands to your hairline, gently drawing the skin up as you do so. Have your thumbs free to apply gentle pressure to the face. Start by lightly pressing the thumb pads either side of the nose, where the nose meets the cheek bones - on the Nasalis muscle - highlighted on the anatomical image. Important: make sure you are not closing the nostrils, if you can breath comfortably through the nose, then do, if not open the mouth. Experiment with the pressure. Press for as long as feels comfortable. When you release the pressure, notice whether you are able to breathe more freely through the nostrils. Continue to Step 2. If you have a cold, try this another day. 😊
Step 2: Next move the thumb pads to lightly press on the Levator Labii Superioris muscle - highlighted on the anatomical image. Continue to breathe and if possible through the nose - for as long as feels good. Continue to Step 3.
Step 3: Next move the thumb pads over the cheek bones to press on the Zygomaticus major and minor muscles - highlighted on the anatomical image. Continue to breathe and if possible through the nose - for as long as feels good. Continue to the final step.
Step 4: Finally move the thumb pads to feel the hinge of the jaw and gently press around the Masseter Superficial muscle. Smile as you breathe and notice whether you feel more of an opening in the nostrils. Maybe take time to use this moment to give gratitude, and smile your beautiful smile. 😊
With this simple exercise, which can be done in a few quiet minutes, we begin to reap the benefits of releasing facial tension, and calm, conscious, nasal breathing. These include:
Tension: Facial tension and stress can accumulate in the muscles of the face throughout the day. Whether it’s emotional or physical stress, it gets held in the face. Like any other muscle group, overtime if tension isn’t released it impacts the surrounding muscles, neck, shoulders etc. If you don’t have a method for releasing facial tension, we hope the above technique is helpful to you.
Warmth¹: the nose adds moisture and warmth as air is inhaled providing a smoother entry to the lungs, and also reduces the risk of dehydration that can happen with mouth breathing.
Energy¹: breathing through the nose can support a more effective performance by enabling O₂ (oxygen) to get to active tissues. Nasal breathing releases nitric oxide which increases CO₂ (carbon dioxide) in the blood, and CO₂ is needed to release O₂ (and therefore energy) to our bodily tissues. A lengthened exhale helps to more efficiently release CO₂ which further enhances O₂ release into tissues, providing even more energy.
Calm¹: An extended exhale facilitates a feeling of calm clarity, by connecting to the lower lobes of the lungs, and triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing us out of fight/flight and into rest/digest mode.
Filtration: Our nose has an effective system of tiny hairs to filter out nasties in the air we are breathing - viruses, bacteria, pollutants etc. Smell also alerts us to the presence of contaminants we should avoid inhaling.
Posture and stability²: Optimal breathing promotes good posture, core strength and stability, and vice versa, enhancing physical fitness and optimum athletic performance.
Wellbeing²: The very act of breathing moves and massages our internal organs, stimulating lots of essential bodily tasks: digestion, absorption, filtering, flushing, production and elimination. This is why good breathing exercises and habits promote a sense of wellbeing.
Immunity boost³: In conjunction with the lymphatic system, improving breathing habits can help to boost immunity and ability to fight off infections.
Done regularly, breathing exercises help us to take ownership of our breathing patterns, which is vital if we are to optimize oxygen advantage and therefore athletic performance. Everyone breathes differently, and every sport has different demands on the breath, but the common denominator in all disciplines is that optimal breathing techniques become an important strategy in athletic performance and in life.
Finally - smile¹. When we smile the nostrils flare enabling more air through the nose. Smiling with focussed breath is a great way to start the day :-)
If you would like to learn more about the Science of Breathing, take a look at our 40-Hour Yoga for Athletes Immersion Course
Ferreira, A and Winter, H (2022) Institute of Yoga Sports Science® The science of breathing. Delivered online as part of the Science of Teaching Yoga to Athletes - 40-Hour Immersion Course Yoga Alliance Approved, by the Institute of yogasportscience.com
Nestor, James (2020) Breath: the new science of a lost art, 1st Edition, published by Penguin Random House, UK.
¹Winter, Hayley (2022) Institute of Yoga Sports Science® 3 Reasons why nasal breathing is essential in cold climates. Delivered online by the Institute of yogasportscience.com
²Winter, Hayley (2022)Institute of Yoga Sports Science® The Science of Breathing Module 1 Unit 5 of Yoga Sports Coach™200-Hour Yoga Alliance Approved Online Specialty Course
³Winter, H & Ferreira, A (2020) Discover the importance of the breath/lymphatic system connection to keep the immune system healthy. Delivered as a Yoga Alliance webinar.
Winter, H (2022) Institute of Yoga Sports Science® Practical breathing session with Hayley. Delivered online as part of the Yoga Sports Coach™200-Hour Yoga Alliance Approved Online Specialty Course, by the Institute of yogasportscience.com