Since the very first moment of birth, we have the most intimate relationship with our breath. Inhaling and exhaling from the beginning of life to the end. A conscious reminder that we are alive. Perhaps because it has always been there we tend to take our breathing for granted.
Since ancient times, yogic practices included breathing exercises as part of self realisation. These are believed to have many benefits such as harmony between logic and feeling, stimulating heat or cold, regulating blood pressure and much more.
Observe the rhythm of your breathing during different emotional states. You will notice that when you are truly relaxed, at peace, your breathing falls into a naturally deep and long pace. When your peace is disturbed - by anger, frustration, stress or anxiety - you will find the breathing to be shallow and short.
Why is this important? More importantly we need to understand why this happens.
Despite millennia of apparent human evolution, our subconscious mind along with the brain still think we are living in the stone age. Any disturbance to the default peaceful state activates the fight/ flight mechanism. The brain thinks there is a real and physical danger to life and suddenly adrenaline is pumping throughout the system. Blood flow is prioritised to the arms and legs and breathing becomes short and fast. This is the perfect condition if there really is a physical threat to life thereby requiring physical self defence or running like crazy. However, in the modern world of law and order, societal norms and urbanisation how often are emotional disturbances caused by real, physical threats? In most cases it is misunderstandings, disagreements, something someone said, the way someone said something, etc… The average person is not going to get physical over such issues (of course, some do and end up in trouble with the police).
Essentially, your emotions influence your breathing and part of the brain hasn’t caught up with the rest of us in evolution. The good news is that we can reverse engineer our breathing to control how we feel. If we can remain alert to the rhythm of our breathing during the day we can control our emotions. The next time you find yourself disturbed, check your breathing. Take control. Start breathing longer and deeper. Ensure the belly is expanding as well as the lungs. Within seconds you will begin to feel calmer.
Through deep, abdominal breathing you trick the mind into believing there is no threat. The adrenaline tap is switched off and all is good again.
There is another reason why it is important to control your breathing. While short breathing is ideal for physical action, it is not ideal for activities which require thinking. As it is, the brain is quite a way up above the heart. For the brain to receive fresh, oxygenated blood, the heart needs to pump extra hard against gravity. Pressure is required for blood to reach the extremities of the brain. Short breathing doesn’t develop enough pressure which is why we make the most mistakes and say regrettable things when we are stressed, angry or otherwise disturbed. Just think, how many errors you made during emotional outbursts, fits of anger and phases of stress. Sometimes we go round and round in circles trying to solve a problem because we have got too worked up and stressed about it and as a result deprived the brain of oxygen! As soon as we take a break, think about something else allowing our mind to relax, the solution just appears.
It can be a good idea to practise deep breathing whenever you can. Next time you find yourself with a few seconds to spare, instead of grabbing the phone you can observe your breath. Restore your sense of calm with deep, long breaths. The more you practise, the more naturally you will remember to take control during emotional hijacks.
We have been breathing since the very first moment on this planet yet most of us don’t realise the power we have in the simple act of inhaling and exhaling. It is time to take back control of your life. Breathe better to think better and feel better.