“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”- Thich Nhat Hanh
You probably don’t think about breathing on a daily basis. It just happens naturally. For many, the only time they’ve had someone call attention to their breath is at the doctor’s office when they have a stethoscope pressed against their backs.
You’re asked at every visit to take a big breath in and out. So, if doctors monitor the effectiveness of your ability to breathe deeply, then there must be a profound connection between your health and the quality of your breath.
Here is a list of health benefits associated with a daily practice of conscious breathing:
- Higher and more sustained levels of energy
- Lower stress and anxiety levels
- Better athletic performance
- A higher sense of emotional and physical awareness
- Mental clarity that brings you into the now
- Stronger relationships from clear reasoning
- Lower risk of chronic disease – even cancer
What is conscious breath?
You may be thinking what’s the point of conscious breathing when you breathe every single second of every day.
Conscious breathing essentially means that you bring awareness to the timing and even the location of your breath. The majority of us rarely ever think about our breathing.
However, being aware of your breath is a practice used by a variety of religions and worldviews such as Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity for spiritual development. There are a variety of other health benefits associated with conscious breathing, so the practice is often endorsed by various health professionals.
The type of breathing that you do on a day to day basis is called unconscious breathing. Unconscious breathing is organized by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem. All of the functions done by the Medulla Oblongata are involuntary.
In contrast, conscious breath is controlled by the cerebral cortex. This part of your brain processes higher thought mechanisms such as speech and decision making. So, by implementing conscious breath you are engaging your brain more actively and even changing your emotional state.
I was first introduced to the idea of conscious breathing at the age of thirteen. I found that I had a difficult time quietening my thoughts when it was time for me to sleep. I would become anxious as the hours ticked away while I lay in bed frustrated with why I couldn’t sleep.
My mother didn’t know the immense health benefits that stem from a practice of deep breathing, but she knew that taking long breaths would help to calm my nerves. She recommended that I concentrate on breathing slowly rather than trying to fall asleep.
It took several minutes, but eventually I disciplined my mind to focus on my breath. A few minutes later I was asleep.
That’s the moment I first discovered the power of conscious breath. I would later apply the concept to various other parts of my life after I learned different techniques from my yoga practice.
How Does It Work?
When you slow your breath and start controlling its rate, you make a direct connection to your central nervous system. By activating your cerebral cortex when you practice conscious breath, you send inhibitory impulses from your cerebral cortex to your hypothalamus in the midbrain.
The major function of the hypothalamus is to control the endocrine and the central nervous system. Essentially, the hypothalamus keeps your body in a state of homeostasis. So, by slowing these impulses you also slow your emotional response produced by the hypothalamus. That’s why slow breath gives a calming and soothing state to your body.
But, what is the connection between breath and health? Can focusing on breath really lead to a higher level of wellness for our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being?
The benefits of Deep Breathing
1. Higher Energy Levels
You might be able to skip your morning cup of coffee if you breathe more deeply. Your breath is essentially the source of life. Without breathing for several minutes, you’d quickly die. Your breath transports oxygen into our body to support its functions and dispels carbon dioxide out of your body.
Oxygen is also directly tied to how our body produces energy. In the process of cellular respiration, how our cells create energy, oxygen oxidizes our food. This system then releases energy by converting oxygen and glucose into ATP.
So, the more oxygen you have in your body, the easier your body produces the energy molecule ATP. By taking longer deeper breaths daily, you might find that you feel more revitalized and rejuvenated.
2. Lowers Stress and Anxiety Levels
Deep breaths signal the parasympathetic nervous system to take over. The sympathetic nervous system controls the fight or flight response – a chain of reactions that occur when your body is heavily stressed or feels endangered.
During the fight or flight response, your body basically sets off an alarm system that alerts the hypothalamus. Your hypothalamus then stimulates your adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The adrenaline will increase your heart and breath rate. Cortisol, a stress hormone, increases the amount of sugar in your bloodstream.
This fight or flight response is great if you need to run away from someone attacking you or any other instance that your life might be threatened. But, when you activate the fight or flight response with minor stressors and have difficulty stopping the fight or flight response, the over production of cortisol and adrenaline can be detrimental to your health.
So, how does an awareness of your breath reverse this? By breathing slowly, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps us to relax. The parasympathetic nervous system brings your body back into homeostasis. The longer you stay in this state your body heals and develops a healthy immune system.
Overtime you will also notice a reduction in stress and anxiety. In fact, studies show that those with chronic breathing disorders often have anxiety and depression as well. Shallow breaths that we do on a daily basis naturally will increase anxiety and stress.
Try to implement more conscious breathing into your life, and you’ll experience the restorative benefits.
You’ll release tension in your body that you may not even realize that you have. For instance, is your tongue currently pressed to the roof or your mouth? Are your teeth clenched? Do you notice that you’re tensing any other muscle in your body?
3. Better Athletic Performance
I just spoke about the unknown tension that you carry in your body on a daily basis. Imagine how much better your athletic performance or weekly exercise routine would be if you were more relaxed. Imagine how much more you could use your muscles efficiently and effectively when you aren’t combating tension and stress.
When you are exercising, you may notice that your breath gets shorter and faster. Instead of allowing yourself to continue breathing at that rate, try to slow down your breath rate and take full deep breaths. You’ll slow your heart rate and be able to exercise longer.
I first noticed the benefits of this when I decided that I wanted to try running for exercise. I was only able to run for a few minutes at first, and then I was out of breath. I later tried to breathe deeply while running from the very start. I found that I was able to run for a far longer period of time. Now, I use deep breathing in all forms of exercise to keep my body energized and regulate my heart rate.
4. More Awareness and Mental Clarity – These Will Help You Build Stronger Relationships
When you are more aware of your breath, you bring more awareness into your life in general. This heightened sense of awareness can give you more appreciation for the present moment. You are forced to concentrate solely on your breath in conscious breathing. You can’t think about your to do list or what someone said to you yesterday.
Conscious breathing only allows you to be in the now.
When you’re only focused on the present moment, you might find that your relationships with others will strengthen. You’ll only be focused on the time that you’re spending with that person in that moment. You’ll be fully engaged and your mind won’t wonder. The other person will feel more appreciated rather than ignored.
A greater sense of awareness and mindfulness would also improve your mental clarity. Imagine you’re in an argument and instead of lashing back at a hurtful comment, you’re able to take a step back and think of a more productive way to respond.
Slowing your breath actually changes your state of mind. Your hypothalamus begins to put your body into a serene state. You’ll experience that you’re more rational rather than reactive.
5. Lower Risk for Chronic Disease – Even Cancer
Breathing deeply lowers your stress levels. When you have lower stress levels, you have lower cortisol levels. High cortisol levels contribute to many of the chronic health conditions that you see every day.
The stress hormone often raises your blood pressure and can increase risks of a heart attack or heart disease. Cortisol also increases your blood sugar. If you have a tendency to get stressed often, cortisol may increase your risk for developing diabetes.
A breathing practice can also help reduce your risk for developing cancer. In 1931, Otto Walberg received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery that cancer cells do not thrive in an exceedingly oxygenated setting.
Yoga Breathing Exercises
Traditionally, yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice that combines the idea of conscious breath with bodily posture and movement to help strengthen your muscles, increase your flexibly, bring awareness to your life, and improve your overall health.
The word yoga literally means to yoke or union. Though this can be interpreted various ways, in yoga you work to yoke your breath to movement. This action connects you to the present, to your soul, and to those around you.
Here’s three yoga breathing exercise for you to receive the benefits of implementing conscious breath in your life:
1. Ujjayi Breath
This breathing technique is also called the victorious breath. It increases internal body heat and gets your blood flow circulating. This fact makes the ujjayi breath perfect for exercise or warming up.
In addition to this benefit, the ujjayi breath also:
- Relieves stress and tension
- Regulates blood pressure
- Increases energy
- Clears the mind
- Detoxes the body
How to Perform the Ujjayi Breath
You’ll be breathing solely out of your nose for this one, so keep your mouth closed. Take a large inhale though your nose and focus the oxygen pathway onto the back of your throat. Then, exhale slowly while slightly constricting your throat muscles.
To really get the hang of it, try to start by inhaling for a count of five and then exhaling for a count of five. This breath should feel really cleansing to your body.
2. Belly Breath
This breathing technique is also called the diaphragmatic breathing technique and is excellent for those who experience anxiety.
- A decreased heart rate
- Lower levels of stress
- A strengthened diaphragm
- Less need for energy exertion for breathing
How to Perform Belly Breath
Start by lying on your back. Place one had on your chest and the other on your stomach just below your rib cage. Breathe in slowly through your nose filling your belly with air. You should feel your hand rise on your stomach, but your hand on your chest should remain still.
Then, exhale through your mouth and allow your stomach to lower. Your chest always remains still.
3. Alternate Nostril Breath
This breathing technique is also called the Nadi Shodhana. This type of breathing practice is also great for stress, but I personally use it for mental clarity.
- A clearer focused mind
- Rejuvenation of the nervous system
- Removal of toxins in the body
How to Perform Alternate Nostril Breath
Start by sitting up straight with your legs crossed. Next make a fist with your hand, and then extend your pinky and thumb. Press your thumb to your right nostril and inhale slowly through your left. Then press your pinky to your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Continue to alternate your inhales and exhales.
STARTING YOUR PATH TO HEALTHY LIVING
There is so much more to a holistic lifestyle than deep breathing techniques. When you start your journey to healthier living, there seems to be so much information to weed through. It can be confusing and difficult to determine what you should focus on first.
That’s why we developed a short 15 Point Guide For Essential Health e-book. Take charge of your own health. With a little help, you’ll be living a healthier more fulfilled life in no time.
Get your copy of the e-book for free when you subscribe to our e-mail list.
Our amazing team of Sunwarriors creates the healthiest Plant-Based Proteins & Supplements. Our mission is to nourish & Transform The Planet.
Claims on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research.. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.
Share This Post
Sunwarrior likes to share. Please feel free to repost articles as long as you always link back to the original and credit the author.