What if there was one thing you could do to improve your health, build physical strength, boost your productivity, and relieve stress and anxiety?
Did I mention that it’s free? And you already have it.
How often do you think about breathing?
I know, you are already breathing right now.
But how often do you think about breathing?
Maybe not often. Almost certainly not often enough.
That makes sense. Why would you think about breathing?
Breathing is an automatic processes that just happens. You’ve been doing it since you were born.
And that’s part of the problem.
Because it happens automatically, we often don’t learn how to breathe.
Sometimes we don’t realize that we aren’t breathing. Shortly after I started daily meditation and became more aware of my breath, I realized that when I intensely concentrated on something or was rushing to finish something — usually in front of a screen — I would hold my breath. Holding your breath sends a signal to the brain that you’re in distress.
Even though I have maintained a daily meditation practice for years, meditation is not the same as intentional breathing. In meditation I would often watch the breath, but that doesn’t mean I was breathing correctly.
Are you breathing wrong?
Yes, there’s a right way to breathe. Who knew? I didn’t get the instruction manual, did you?
It turns out that although breathing happens automatically, breathing correctly is a skill.
It’s a skill that requires training muscles — mostly the diaphragm. It’s a skill that can be hindered by the state of other muscles. I’ve learned in recent months that my shortened hip flexors and tight pectoral muscles pull on my ribs, which prevent me from recruiting my diaphragm and thus limit my ability to take long, deep breaths.
By the way, I’ve done pilates, yoga, and other breath-aware practices for years. And I still am learning to breathe correctly. Breathing is hard. But worth the effort to learn how to do it well.
Strengthening the diaphragm helps us take longer and slower breaths, which is a game-changer.
The benefits of breathing well
Taking longer and slower breaths slows down the nervous system, taking us out of the sympathetic response, known as “fight-or-flight,” or “wired and tired” mode, to the parasympathetic response, which is the “rest and digest” mode.
Breath is the life force energy that sustains us. The ancient yogis believed that we are given a certain number of breaths to take in our lifetime. The longer you can make each breath, the longer you’ll live.
That “more time” you’re looking for? It will come when you slow down your breath.
Slowing down the breath also changes the state of our brains, putting us into a more receptive state where we can absorb more information and retain it better.
How you breathe determines how well you can center yourself, and thus relax. Just becoming aware of your breathing can help you realize and then clear body tensions and in turn open your mind to receive solutions to problems. — Elson M. Haas, M.D. in Staying Healthy With the Seasons
Breathing. Not generally something we think about, but bringing some intention to it can serve us in so many ways.
All you need is a few minutes of attention on your breath to slow it down.