In the last few decades, we have learned a lot about the beneficial effects of mindfulness and the mind-body connection on health, as well as quality of life and relationships.
A key aspect of a conscious lifestyle and living with awareness is developing a practice of mindful breathing, also known as diaphragmatic or deep breathing. In truth, deep breathing is a form of meditation.
Our breath is designed to partner with us in three ways in fostering optimal health together; there are also three principles that form the basis of a successful practice of mindful breathing. Those are the topics of Part 2 and Part 3. In this post we explore how vital deep breathing is to our physical and emotional well-being, and some of its proven benefits.
How important is deep breathing?
Our mental, emotional and physical health are all about the quality of oxygen flow in the body.
Since the brain needs a lot of oxygen to function optimally (using about 80% of the oxygen present the body), how you breathe has a huge impact on your mental health and physical well being.
Tension depletes the body’s oxygen supply by inhibiting the powerful muscle that supports the lungs, the diaphragm, from sending oxygen to the lower part of the lungs, where it is more effectively released to all parts of the body. At a physical level, deep breathing expands the lungs in ways that allow more oxygen to circulate throughout the body.
Mindful breathing corrects the tendency we have to tense our body, especially around the abdominal muscles.
When depressed or anxious, the breath is shallow, our shoulders are slumped, and lungs are collapsed. We aren’t getting enough oxygen rich blood to feed the brain. Deep breathing, along with some adjustments in our posture, allows the lungs to expand to their full capacity so the body and mind receive more oxygen.
The practice of breathing, alongside other activities that naturally circulate oxygen, such as exercise, singing, dancing or even laughing, has been shown to have tremendous healing effects on the mind and body. With daily practice, there are many physical and emotional benefits.
Studies show that deep breathing alleviates depression and anxiety, restoring balance to the biochemistry of the brain by raising levels of feel-good hormones oxytocin, dopamine and prolactin, and lowering levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
In psychotherapy, deep breathing is one of the most important components in managing panic attacks and anxiety, and other emotional overwhelm conditions.
With deep breathing we may also expect to see improvements in mental clarity, focus and attention, as well as physical improvements in circulation, heart and blood pressure.
It has been shown to actually heal certain nerves. With practice, we can even create a drop in our overall breath rate, from the average of 16 to 18 breaths per minute to 10 to 12 breaths.
Perhaps more importantly, conscious breath work can unlock doors to self-healing, self-awareness, acceptance, self-discipline, and peace of mind – all of which we need to increase and protect our happiness, improve our relationships – and live life at its best.
Consider cultivating a deep breathing practice.
Mindful breathing can improve our life dramatically. By increasing our awareness of the power to choose our emotional state of mind and body, it can transform our experience of the quality of our connection to our self and others, the power of presence. As the latest findings in neuroscience show, our brain is a relationship organ; we are relationship beings at heart. It’s all about connection, and a practice of mindful meditation on breath facilitates healthy intra- and inter-personal connections.
Let your breath delight you, and turn any daily challenge into an opportunity for growth, healing change, and transformation.
Our breath can also be seen as an active partner, once that seeks to engage us to work together, as a team, in fostering our optimal health and well-being. More on this in Part II.
In the meantime, engage in as many activities as possible that replenish the oxygen supply of your brain and body. If you do not already, start to exercise on a regular basis. And remember to engage in other key (and fun!) activities in which breath invigorates your health: Sing! Dance! Laugh!