Simon Krohn: Breathing techniques

Simon Krohn is a trained yoga teacher and lives in Nørrebro in Copenhagen. He was the first person in Denmark to be certified at the highest level within the Yoga Alliance. He holds an MSc in Philosophy with a focus on Indian philosophy and studied for a year at Banaras Hindu University in India. Simon is a trained body therapy professional and has participated in several health science research projects, both as a test subject and as a consultant. He has been teaching yoga, meditation and breathing for more than 20 years and is one of the country’s most sought-after yoga teachers.

Breathing is often considered the fastest way to affect our state. Read on to learn more about how you can use breathing techniques to create peace and harmony.


How does breathing affect our mind?

Breathing affects the mind in two different ways. First, breathing will affect the autonomic nervous system directly through a nerve called the vagus nerve. Breathing through your mouth, for example, will stimulate the part of the autonomic nervous system that increases alertness and prepares your body for battle or escape. Conversely, breathing through the nose will have a calming effect. Something similar is true in relation to your inhalations and exhalations. Every time you inhale, it increases your alertness, whereas exhalations will calm you down. Therefore, if you walk around habitually breathing through your mouth with inhalations longer than your exhalations, it will keep your body and thus your mind in a state of restlessness – supposedly primarily because of the vagus nerve.

The other way breathing affects the mind is caused by a centre in the brain called amygdala. Amygdala monitors both external and internal stimuli and reacts through association. For example, if you breathe in a dramatic and restless way, it will associate it with danger and subsequently send a message to the autonomic nervous system to increase alertness and respond emotionally. Unlike the vagus nerve, the way amygdala responds to breathing techniques is somewhat individual. Some people may associate hyperventilation with playing, while others may associate it with having an anxiety attack.

Both the vagus nerve and amygdala create a clear pattern: If you breathe in a tense and restless way, it will keep you in a tense and restless state of mind, so it can be a good idea to keep a close eye on your breathing habits. For example, if you walk around breathing up in your chest, it’s a good idea to stop at times and remind your body how to breathe down in your belly.


How can we use breathing to create inner peace and harmony?

Breathing is often considered the fastest way to affect our state, and there are a number of really good breathing techniques available. Something as simple as breathing deeply and calmly for four to five minutes will have a calming effect on most people. Most people also experience a sense of increased peace and harmony by lying on the floor with a bolster under their knees and a warm sandbag on their belly. It will lure you to start breathing down in your belly, and this is usually something that amygdala associates with security. A third technique is to prolong your exhalations so that they are about twice as long as your inhalations. If you can breathe comfortably in this way for about five minutes, the calming effect it has on your body and mind is obvious.

However, it's important that we don't think we should walk around constantly keeping track of our breathing. It is important that breathing is generally allowed to take care of itself. The body is significantly better at breathing than we are. The techniques are therefore good to use as a kind of input for the body, and once you've done them, you can just let your body breathe on its own again.


The feeling of inner peace can be many things – What does inner peace mean to you?

For me, inner peace is a state where the mind has become calm and where I find that the feeling of being switched on and being busy has disappeared. It's a pleasant state of rest, but the best thing about it is what it does to my relationship with the world. When I find inner peace, I also find that I become significantly less self-absorbed. Then it's no longer so important how many registrations there are for my events, and it doesn't matter as much what others think about me. When that happens, it’s as if I’m no longer standing in the way of feeling the world. Suddenly I can open up. Suddenly I notice the colours, sounds and other people. I'm simply on the same wavelength as the world around me. I love this phenomenon, and I’m increasingly aware of how inadequate and lonely it feels when I’m mainly preoccupied with myself.


How do you stay calm during a busy working day?

I think it’s unrealistic to think that you should stay calm in a busy everyday life. The body and mind are programmed to increase alertness when we are busy and challenge ourselves. In fact, I think it’s an inevitable part of living an exciting life where we challenge ourselves. But problems arise if the level of alertness is either too high or if we can't work out how to find peace again. Both can create a lot of suffering, and that's why I would recommend that everyone has a daily practice with calming techniques. Personally, I spend some time every day with the purpose of thoroughly regulating my autonomic nervous system, so that I reach a state of inner peace.

As a yoga teacher, I have a large arsenal of calming techniques, but I'd like to share one technique that works really well for most people. You lie on the floor with your legs up against the wall and with a bolster under your bottom. This position has a calming effect for several reasons. Firstly, it increases the blood pressure to the brain, and when this happens, the body reacts by turning down the intensity. Furthermore, the position usually causes the body to breathe lower down in the belly. If you lie in this position for about five minutes and breathe deeply and steadily while you feel the movement of your belly, you will probably feel significantly calmer.   

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