“Don’t forget to breathe!” my dad used to tell me during track races. How could I forget to breathe? For whatever reason, it was something that I just forgot to do…and I’m not alone. (Sort of. I’ll get to that soon.) As children, we are encouraged to talk, walk, eat, drink and do other cute things, but what about breathing? Without breathing, we would cease to live in a matter of minutes! Yet, proper breathing is never really taught to us.
Yes, inhalation provides vital oxygen, but the style of breathing determines how that essential nutrient is utilized in our body. Furthermore, patterns of breath are closely intertwined with states of the mind. This happens whether or not people are mindful of each breath. Please take four seconds out of reading right now and give undivided attention to how your breath is…
How was it? Did it feel effortless, deep in the abdomen, and relaxed? What about feeling forced, weak, shallow, and predominantly in the upper chest?
Humans breathe in two different ways: automatically or voluntarily. Automatic breathing is the physiological response of the body to high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. The body naturally increases the breathing rate to get rid of excess carbon dioxide and take in more oxygen (Novotny & Kravitz). We can also voluntarily choose to breathe with different lengths of inhalation or exhalation. This is actual a remarkable ability of the human body for a couple reasons. First, how many other bodily processes can work automatically or voluntarily? I can think of blinking and peeing (if you laugh too hard. Hehe.) Second, we now have a tangible link between body and mind.
The relationship between our breathing pattern and mental state is interchangeable. Meaning, each of them affect the other. This is a benefit to us because we can have more control and intention over our overall psycho-emotional experience. Yay!
Back to the quality of your breath… So just how does this all work? Short and shallow breaths stimulate our sympathetic nervous system response of “flight or fight.” This type of breathing is dominant during anxiety. Long, slow, and deep breaths activate the parasympathetic nervous which helps us to “rest and digest” (Wilson, 2014). Breathing in this manner correlates with peace, relaxation, and calm states of consciousness.
Breathe is the physiological connection between body and mind. It can be used negatively (usually without people noticing) or as a helpful tool when you kindly focus on it.
It may have taken years to develop bad breathing habits, but fret not! The wonderful breath is an infinite mechanism and you can come back to at ANY moment. (Including now.) It’s okay to forget about this natural instrument. It happens. What actually matters is that you remembered again…and again…and again! Be patient with yourself 🙂
Interested in more?
- Three surprising ways a deep breath can reduce your anxiety
- Breath, body, and mind: The physiology of pranayama
- The science of breathing
Sources in article:
Novotny, S., & Kravitz, L. (n.d.). The Science of Breathing. Retrieved July 11, 2015.
Wilson, A. (2014, January 2). Breath, Body, and Mind: The Physiology of Pranayama – Thrive: The Kripalu Blog. Retrieved July 11, 2015.