Breath for Health

Credit Aga King

Michael Hutchinson, a TSYP advisor who trained with TKV Desikachar, has written a slim volume, Breath for Health. This clear and inviting book, beautifully illustrated by TSYP member Mandy Meaden, takes you step by step through the art and science of good breathing. And it comes highly recommended by many in our tradition, including Amy Wheeler and Frans Moors. Here Michael tells us a bit about how the book came about.

My book is about functional breathing. I follow in the footsteps of the world-renowned yoga teacher, TKV Desikachar. His engineering training, together with his studies with his father, the legendary T Krishnamacharya, led him to look at yoga, including breathing, from a functional perspective. So that is why, while researching my book, I was delighted to discover that there has been much work in respiratory physiology that supports what Mr Desikachar taught us, as regards breathing function.

As both Desikachar’s follower and a scientist, I also treat breathing in a functional way. This is especially true when I work with someone 1 to 1. In that situation, the idea that any fixed way of breathing will help everyone in the same way becomes absurd. A focus on function means that I have to look at how my student is faring in a particular breathing exercise. I can then suggest any adjustments needed to preserve the core function of that exercise.

In this way, I and my student arrive at what Mr Desikachar called a Vinyasa. This is an intelligently structured practice plan, adapted to my student’s needs and aspirations. In fact, my whole book is such a Vinyasa. I imagine people starting with little or no awareness of their dysfunctional breathing. I set out, chapter by chapter, the key stages of training they and their breath will need to undergo. My intention is to help them restore the natural, relaxed and supportive breathing with which I believe we all start life.

Credit Mandy Meaden

My emphasis is never on breaking down anyone’s dysfunctional breathing, but on helping to build up a new pattern. In my book, I focus on what I want people positively to experience and I minimise the time and space spent on what’s dysfunctional. This has kept my book slim and upbeat in tone. Forget the dysfunctional, build the functional and it will simply takeover, because it is what is natural.

We can’t stop breathing! Relaxed, functional breathing has to be built up day by day in the background, until it is ready to take over. In my case, this happened one day. In response to a stressful situation, my new functional breathing pattern stepped in to help me and I coped much better than before.

Dysfunctional breathing is widespread and may be affecting many of us. University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust say that between 6 and 12% of the UK population are breathing so dysfunctionally that this causes them problems evident in a medical setting. The percentage of people who are less impacted by their dysfunctional breathing is hard to estimate, but I suggest that those 6 to 12% are the tip of an iceberg.

Credit Mandy Meaden

If everyone who needed to read my book and learned functional breathing, what do I think would happen? In 1988, I heard Dr Claude Lum on the BBC. He described the way that his colleagues at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, were referring to him patients with all sorts of inexplicable symptoms. By teaching these patients breathing exercises, simple compared to many of those in my book, Dr Lum was able to relieve many of these symptoms.

Dr Lum worked for the NHS, which stands for National Health Service. I believe that my book, if widely adopted and used, could have a positive impact on the UK’s national health, that is the health of the UK population. But my book’s relevance isn’t limited to one country; it has potential application worldwide.

In the words of TSYP Vice Chair, Maggie Shanks, the book is “simple and light for a beginner, yet still educational and thought provoking for the more experienced”.

Breath for Health is available at the special pre-publication price of £11 + P&P (approx. £1.50 for the UK). To order your copy click here.

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