Take a deep breath — does it work?

“Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath.” ~ Unknown

Breath is essential to life. It is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do when we leave. In between that time, we take about half a billion breaths. What we may not realize is that the mind, body, and breath are intimately connected and can influence each other. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts and physiology can be influenced by our breath.

Nobody wants to be told they are not doing the essentials correctly, but I think it is time we talked about the fact you are not breathing right, under certain circumstances. Born breathing, we are naturally equipped with an easy and accessible strategy for anxiety prevention, stress reduction, conflict resolution and self-regulation.  Chances are, many people would benefit from a few lessons to use their breathing to its full potential. 

Researchers have documented the benefits of a regular practice of simple, deep breathing which include: Reduced anxiety and depression; Lower/stabilized blood pressure; Increased energy levels; Muscle relaxation; Decreased feelings of stress and overwhelm. Within the medical community, there is a growing appreciation for the positive impact that deep breathing can have on the physiology, both in the mind and the body

A recent study, at NorthShore University Hospital, began by observing brain activity when patients were breathing normally. Next, the patients were given a simple task to distract them: clicking a button when circles appeared on the computer screen. This allowed for observing what was happening when people breath naturally and do not focus on their breathing. Next, the patients were told to consciously increase the pace of breathing and to count their breaths. When breathing changed with the exercises, the brain changed as well. Essentially, the breathing manipulation activated different parts of the brain.

The findings provide support for the advice individuals have been given for millennia: during times of stress, or when heightened concentration is needed, focusing on one’s breathing or doing breathing exercises can indeed change the brain. Now, this research puts science behind that practice. Research indicates that breathing helps the brain! There are both physical and psychological benefits from deep, calm breaths. 

“Breath is the link between mind and body.” ~ Dan Brule

As well as reversing the physical stress response in the body, deep breathing can help calm and slow down the emotional turbulence in the mind. Breathing can have an immediate effect on diffusing emotional energy so there is less reactivity to our emotions.

Science has shown that the advice to “take a deep breath” may not just be a cliché. Simply put, changes in breathing—for example, breathing at different paces or paying careful attention to the breaths—were shown to engage different parts of the brain. Our ability to control and regulate our brain is unique: e.g., controlling emotions, deciding to stay awake despite being tired, or suppressing thoughts. These abilities are not trivial, nor do humans share them with many animals. Animals, generally, do not alter their breathing speed volitionally; their breathing normally only changes in response to running, resting, etc.

“She took a deep breath and let it go.” ~ Unknown

A regular daily practice of deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving your health and well-being. Performing a breathing technique twice daily for only three to five minutes can produce long-term benefits. You can also use them any time you are feeling stressed or notice that your breathing has become constricted. By training your body with a regular practice of deep breathing, you will begin to breathe more effectively even without concentrating on it.

Yoga is a good place to start. The basis for all deep breathing practices originates in the science of yoga, specifically the branch of yoga known as pranayama. The word pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words: prana (life force) and yama (control). By controlling the breath, you can influence every aspect of your life.

Now take a deep breath in …

*** Article reprint from my Capital City Hues newspaper article of August, 2020. ***

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Artist, Writer, Graphic Design, Jazz Radio Host here to Inform, Inspire & Ignite you to live the life you really want.

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