Our breath. It’s something we often take for granted. Yet, our breath is our most sacred commodity. I once took a wilderness survival class where I learned about the “rule of three”. The rule of three states that you can survive for three minutes without air, three hours without shelter in a harsh environment, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Isn’t this amazing to consider? Breath is truly the most precious resource.
Not only is our breath our most essential force for life, it is also one of our greatest allies for reducing anxiety and increasing energy when we really understand how to harness it. Here are some quick tips on how you can use breathing techniques to increase a sense of well-being.
What is Mindful Breathing?
First, let’s define what mindful breathing is. In its simplest form, mindful breathing is the practice of placing your attention on your breath. Rather than forcing or controlling your breath, you focus your awareness on your breathing, in the present moment, as it naturally moves in and out. Seems simple, right? But there is more to mindful breathing than meets the eye.
Mindful Breathing Is Not Necessarily “Easy” at First
While breathing is natural, mindful breathing is not necessarily easy. When we slow down enough to notice our breath, the voice in our head can also get louder, and the emotions we have been distracted from feeling may rise to the surface. This can be uncomfortable to feel, to say the least.
The incessant worry thoughts tend to grab at our attention and the emotions can feel strong. At first, this can make it difficult to sustain a focus on the breath. But this can change with practice. The more you return your attention gently to the breath, the more the emotions will settle on their own and the voices will quiet.
Try starting with focusing on taking ten, deep, belly breaths. When a worry thought or disturbing feeling arises, acknowledge them and allow them to dissipate on their own, as you return your focus to your breath. At first, you may notice it’s difficult to get to ten mindful breaths without being bombarded with an onslaught of thoughts fighting for your attention. As you continue to return to your breath, the thoughts and emotions will become less obtrusive, making way for greater and greater calm.
One common phrase used by meditation teachers is “you can’t focus on two things at the same time.” Essentially, you cannot focus your attention on your breath and stressful thoughts and emotions at the same time. So, the more you practice taking a brief pause to notice your breath the stronger the mindful breath muscle will get. Over time, you will develop the new muscle of mindful breathing and it will indeed get easier.
Use Proper Breathing Technique to Decrease and Not Increase Anxiety
As a therapist, from time to time, I hear clients say that breathing exercises make them more anxious. When I get a better understanding of their breath pattern, I usually discover it’s how they are breathing that’s the culprit.
When you breathe from the upper chest in quick, short breaths, you affect the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. This form of breathing can reduce the amount of oxygen to your blood, which may appear as a threat of danger to your brain. This threat signal leads to your heart beating faster, dizziness, and a build of up tension in the muscles. Ultimately, these symptoms can lead to feelings of anxiety and sometimes panic attacks.
So, if you find yourself breathing quicker and more shallow when attempting to use breathing techniques, try to slow it down and shift from where you are breathing. Focus on your stomach area and draw your breaths down into your abdomen. Deep diaphragmatic breathing sends calming signals to your nervous system and can abate any feelings of anxiety or tension built up from improper breathing.
Also, shift your focus from the inhale to the exhale. Focusing on your exhale also calms the body, as it allows your muscles to relax. So, next time you use a breathing technique to relax, make sure to exhale slowly and deeply from your diaphragm and notice how your body responds. With proper breathing techniques, you can help your body and mind to settle and calm.
You Can Use Mindful Breathing to Calm or Energize the Body
Another great benefit of breathing techniques is that they can be used to both energize your body as well as calm the self. As mentioned, slow, deep exhales from the belly are helpful to relax the body. In contrast, quick, rapid, focused breathing can help you to invigorate your body.
Kundalini breathing is one form of breathing that is often used to bring energy to the body and to clear the mind. One common Kundalini breath practice is the “breath of fire.” Breath of fire technique consists of powerful, short, rapid exhales and passive, natural inhales through the nose. Breath of fire is said to clear toxins and strengthen the lung capacity.
Kundalini and diaphragmatic belly breathing are only a few of the numerous breathing techniques used to either relax or stimulate your body. As you explore the different approaches you can learn how your body responds to the varying breath exercises. With this knowledge, you can better use the techniques for specific times where you need either a pick-me-up or a calm-me-down.
Mindful Breathing in Your Daily Life
Once you’ve practiced breathing mindfully over time, you will discover that it is one of the greatest tools in your arsenal for well-being. What is even greater is that you can use this tool anywhere, at any time. Try mindful breathing as a daily practice and see for yourself how these exercises can help you in your daily life.
If you are curious about what mindfulness and breath exercises can do for you, I encourage you to sign up for a free consult today!