Written by: Sr. Misturah Lawal
Delivered by Sister Aisha Kaddour (The Tranquil Soul).
It’s a sunny spring morning and all is quiet. A salty caramel candle burns, scenting the air with calming deliciousness. I can barely contain my excitement as I settle down to listen to Sister Aisha Kaddour of The Tranquil Soul.
I am filled with warm memories of the last Boost Your Eeman session where Sister Aisha had been the speaker. It was pre-COVID and took place in the Sisters’ section at MIA. Today’s session however would be held online. Who would have thought that our lives and ways of doing things would change so much? Upon all conditions, Alhamdulillah.
After a brief introduction, Sister Aisha said her journey with breathing started 16n years ago when in the pursuit of knowledge and the best birthing experience, she went for a breathing and birthing course at the hospital. From this course, she learnt the importance of breathing to relieve pain, fear and stress. This geared her to learn more from a nurse (who is also a breathwork teacher) about breathing techniques based purely on science. She said breathwork teachers teach people how to retrain their breathing.
She started off with a grounding and breathing technique.
Hand on Chest and Belly
Place one hand on the chest and one on the belly and relax the shoulder and breath normally for two minutes. This helps to become present and we connect with our mind and body. It brings us to a neutral state and counters anxiety and depression. She pointed out that our breath is a direct indicator of our mood and internal state.
Using a diagram, she showed how the body should feel when we inhale and exhale. She explained that we have shallow breathing when we feel that our breath comes from the chest. When our breath comes from the belly or a combination of the chest and belly, it is more productive. She showed us a YouTube video on ‘The correct way to breathe in’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldNnKVGxabA
Allah creates us and our breathing perfectly. As we grow older and adopt a largely sedentary lifestyle, our lungs get constricted and the air we breathe does not fill our lungs as it should. This prevents proper breath movement. This starts from about six years and continues as we grow older.
As it is a gift from Allah, it should come naturally to everyone. However, a lot of us do not breathe properly. This affects our oxygen intake. Not breathing properly affects our sleep, mood, eating habits and so on. Important health benefits of breathing are:
- It allows the muscles to relax and eases tension.
- Fresh oxygen pours into every cell of our body and helps to increase our stamina and mental abilities including concentration and memory.
- Helps us flush out toxins and stress.
- Promotes the release of endorphins which calm the body down.
She asked us to take a minute to breathe mindfully- breathing in through the nose and blowing (breathing) out. This helps to release toxins and she encouraged us to do this regularly.
She asked us to fill a retraining checklist on how and what we feel when we are breathing. She explained that over-breathing is when we take in a lot of oxygen but do not exhale well enough. This means we are not getting the right exchange of oxygen. Yawning could be a sign of imbalance. Tingling in the fingers could also be a huge indicator of over-breathing.
Stressor: A trigger that gives us anxious feelings. If a person is overwhelmed already, the stressor causes anxiety, increase in breathing and symptoms and establishes over-breathing and increases the stress symptoms. We can calm down by breathing nicely in and blowing it out from the mouth.
Is taking in too many deep breaths too quickly. It is also called hyperventilation and it decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to the brain. This easily happens when we are anxious or stressed. Many people who experience this are not aware of it but it affects our mood, sleep, energy levels and the general quality of life. While it is not a health problem in itself, it is a largely ignored symptom which attention should be paid to.
Tips to help retrain your breath
- Shut your mouth! When you find yourself breathing through your mouth.
- Adopt the horse-riding position: Sit at the very edge of the chair, with your weight balanced between your bottom and feet (hip width apart). Keep your back straight and your head up then bend forward. When in this position, gravity pulls the belly away and helps the belly to fill up easily with air and eases breathing.
- Avoid eating when you are stressed.
- Switch the CALM ARM on: This is the parasympathetic nervous system. Concentrate on the out-breath (breathing and blowing out).
- Walk daily with stretching, while breathing through the nose.
- Sleep on your right side: SubhanaLLah! While this is a sunnah, science also proves that sleeping on the right side shuts the jaw and forces us to breathe from our nose.
Techniques to start retraining your breath.
- Pursed-lip breathing (Dandelion breath): Imitates blowing out a dandelion.
- Relax your neck and shoulder muscles
- Slowly breathe in through your nose for two counts, keeping your mouth closed.
- Purse your lips as if you are about to whistle.
- Breathe out slowly and gently through your pursed lips to the count of four.
This technique of blowing dandelions also helps to calm children down.
- Mindful breathing:
- Equal count inhale and equal count exhale.
- This can be done daily.
- You can bring your hands up above the head as you breathe in through the nose and exhale as you bring your hands down to your sides.
- You can also practise from a sitting or lying down position.
- Progressive muscle relaxation:
- This is helpful for anxiety, stress and panic.
- It can be done in bed before going to sleep.
- Tense then relax each muscle group while breathing, starting from the feet, moving upwards to the legs (calf muscles and knees), pelvis, stomach, upper body (shoulders and neck), squeezing the shoulders into the chin, head, face and jaw.
- This helps the body to see the contrast between tension and relaxation.
Sister Aisha then introduced Sister Basma, a Counsellor and Psychotherapist who spoke on Tapping therapy as a healing technique for anxiety and stress.
Sister Basma said its origin is to acknowledge that our bodies store the experiences that we go through. An example is how Prophet Yaqoob (AS) lost his sight due to grief when his son Yusuf (AS) was lost.
However, Allah says:
“Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope…”
-Surah Al-Baqarah (2):286
Tapping is related to acupuncture which does not contradict Islamic beliefs. It is based on the theory that there are 10-12 pressure points which when pressed release certain chemicals in the brain which can reduce stress and anxiety in the body.
EFT (emotional freedom technique): Used to create a balance in energy, treat chronic pains, migraine, bone problems, back and muscle pain.
- Identify the issue by taking a deep breath and identify what emotion comes to the surface like anxiety, fear, sadness and so on.
- Try to estimate the intensity of the issue on a scale of zero to 10.
- Identify the points by tapping with the tips of your fingers.
- The first point is the side of the hand nearest to the little finger (called the karate chop).
- The second point is the top of the head.
- Then the beginning of the eyebrows.
- The side of the eyes, under the eyes, under the nose, chin, collarbone and the armpit.
- Focus on releasing your system from the pain, make statements of acknowledgement and acceptance of the pain as you tap.
- Take a deep breath and let go of the weakness or pain. Begin tapping as you recite Allah’s names to beseech HIM to take away the pain.
- Take a deep breath, inhale a breath of strength and exhale the pain.
At the end of Sister Basma’s session, Sister Aisha thanked all sisters present for attending the session and drew the session to a close.
JazakiLLahu khayr to Sisters Aisha and Basma for a very relaxing and enlightening session!