How to catch your breath over the holidays

Niall Kelly, a veteran teacher of the Alexander Technique, offers tips on how to use your breath to get through the hectic holiday season.

Niall Kelly, a teacher of the Alexander Technique, offers tips on how to really catch your breath

6 years ago
Duration 0:53
Niall Kelly, a teacher of the Alexander Technique, offers tips on how to really catch your breath

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year when friends and family come together, gifts are exchanged, and loved ones linger over decadent meals.

But as idyllic as the holiday season can be, it also comes with its fair share of stress and anxiety – whether you're rushing around the crowded mall picking up last-minute gifts or scrambling to get everything ready before the whole family comes over for a big holiday feast.

The demands of the holiday season can lead us to literally hold our breath, says Niall Kelly, a veteran teacher of the Alexander Technique.

"[Our breath] starts to get short, then if it tends to go on for too long, we can start to get very uncomfortable and a bit discombobulated and begin to think something is wrong."

Kelly says becoming conscious of your breathing is a good way to feel calm and reassured when you need it most. 

Here are some simple tips to help you catch your breath and relax a little more over the holidays:

Actively exhale

Kelly's first exercise with his students is a simple but effective one: he has them say a "whispered ahhhh," or a gentle exhale, which opens up the chest and begins to deepen the breath. Kelly advises to stay away from deep belly breathing: "Over-exhaling is just as bad as not exhaling – it'll bring on anxiety much faster."

Sit upright

As your mom always told you: sit up straight! It's crucial to be aware of the way we sit when it comes to how we breathe, Kelly says. Many of us spend hours sitting down, falling against the back of the chair and slumping. Instead, Kelly suggests consciously sitting away from the back of the chair, lengthening the spine towards the ceiling, and placing feet flat on the floor. Correcting our posture makes it easier for the ribs to move and gives the lungs more space to take a nice deep breath.

Sing a song

Belting it out is a fun – if unexpected – way to modulate your breath. Think of monks intoning a Gregorian chant – the long phrases allow for an extended exhalation. Singing a Christmas carol when you feel your stress rising will help you get into the festive spirit AND help you breathe more easily. Kelly's favourite carol? The classic Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful). Humming the long phrases and held notes always slows his breathing and calms him down.

Next month, Kelly will be teaching a workshop called "Catching Your Breath" at the Glenstal Abbey monastery in his hometown of Limerick, Ireland. Participants will learn to be more mindful of their breath through chanting, meditation, and gentle movement.

Click LISTEN to hear Niall Kelly's full interview with Mary, where he discusses the effect of breathing on our physical well-being and our spiritual side.


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