Do you ever think about your breath? Do you ever stop even to notice it? Is it deep or shallow, fast or slow, are you breathing into your tummy or just your chest? Does it matter? Well, yes. Breathing is one of the only functions of your brainstem that has both automatic and manual controls, you cannot directly control what your kidneys, hearth or liver are up to just by thinking, but you can with your breathing. The breath is your channel into your body. The deeper and fuller the breath the better.
Breathe like a baby
We are born breathing deeply, if you ever see a baby sleep you can see their whole bodies fill with air as they breathe in and their tummy expands. As kids we continue breathing deeply and freely as we play with seemingly relentless energy, helped by our bodies being filled with oxygen. It is only as we grow older and encounter stress that we can lose this connection, apply our conscious “brake” to this deep, full breathing – and encounter adverse consequences.
Avoid feeling anxious
By being conscious of your breath, you can impact mood, emotion, the running of the body and therefore your health. Restricting oxygen intake with shallow breathing, for example, is damaging for the body and mind. It can cause headaches as the brain is restricted of oxygen and can cause lack of concentration, it can also lead to stress and anxiety by impacting mood and emotions. This in turn can lead people to seek other ways to be stimulated, for example by drinking coffee and eating sugar, causing a constant swing of ups and downs.
Shallow breathing is common in today’s world, some of us restrict our breathing occasionally, in some cases it can be the way we breathe day in day out. In many cases it is a result of a stressed and anxious mind or it could indeed cause you to be stressed or anxious. The way we feel will dictate our breath, but the way we “decide” to breathe can also dictate the way we feel, it can work both ways.
Yoga can help
The correlation between breath, the state of mind and body is nothing new. This is a fundamental focus of yoga, but more recently scientific research has started showing how breathing properly (fully and deeply) can help with various conditions like stress, digestive problems and high blood pressure.
When I started practicing yoga I was amazed and surprised to find out how beneficial something as simple as breathing actually is. At the start of my yoga journey it is fair to say that I was a stressful and anxious person living a fast paced hectic life, I wanted to run faster, lift more weights, spin faster, and jump higher. The more and more I got into yoga and the breathing, the calmer and more grounded (and maybe saner) person I became, it fundamentally changed me. The people who know me post-yoga think I am quite relaxed which I am sure some of my ex-colleagues from my pre-yoga days would not agree with. I also found it helpful when it came to other types of exercise, like running. In 2010 I did an ultramarathon and I am convinced that a conscious approach to breathing throughout the race helped me keep calm, my heart rate down and my body in check enabling me to finish in a good time – even after falling down a volcano at the 35km mark.
There is nothing like the feeling you have after a yoga practice. After you have worked the body and breath. As you work through the asanas you make space for the breath and as you lie in savasana you can feel your body filling up with energy but at the same time you feel completely relaxed.
If you are interested in reading more about breathing I can thoroughly recommend “The Breathing Book” by Donna Farhi. Which I used as source for this blog.