5 Benefits of Conscious Breathing
5 Benefits of Conscious Breathing
By Carina Devi
Our breath is a beautiful current that carries us through our life. Breathing is part of the autonomic nervous system, meaning that it works on its own -- similar to the way our bodies digest food without us telling our bodies to do so. Unlike digestion though, we can consciously control our breath in order to shift our experience.
Here are a few of the amazing ways in which conscious breathing can change your life.
1. It helps you focus. People often claim that they can’t meditate because they can’t focus. Of course they can’t! Focusing is a skill we need to cultivate, and most of us have grown up in Western society where we are surrounded by distractions and never learn to hone our focus. Our phones ping, buzz, and ring. Streets are filled with billboards, neon signs, and various advertisements. Ads pop up in the middle of videos and apps. Generally speaking, our attention is divided for much of our waking hours.
In order to breathe consciously, we have to focus on what exactly is happening with our breath. Focus is a support structure for our thoughts. Imagine trying to build a house without support columns. The boards would fall and the final house would look chaotic, but add a column on which to support the boards, and suddenly a structure can take shape. Points of focus are the columns on which your thoughts and emotions are organized and built. Conscious breathing will improve these focused thought supports.
Try this: Get comfortable, and begin to notice your breathing exactly as it is, without changing anything. Simply watch and feel your breath moving in and moving out. Do this for 10 breaths and notice how you feel. In addition to noticing your inhales and exhales, you may also pay attention to the phase between breathing in, out, and in again -- following the four phases of each breath: Inhale, pause, exhale, pause.
2. It relieves stress. When we breathe intentionally, we are communicating directly to our nervous system (our body’s command center which regulates stress and relaxation). When we take a few moments to consciously notice or change our breathing, our nervous system receives the message that you are safe (not being chased by a bear) and it gives your body the green light to relax. There are a wide variety of breathing techniques, each with their own beautiful combination of benefits. When we choose a breath that makes our exhale longer than our inhale, our diaphragm sends a signal to our heart which tells it to slow down slightly. The longer this signal is received, the more our heart rate slows and we feel calmer and more balanced.
The next time you are feeling stressed or anxious, try Orbiting Breath:
Breathe in and out naturally, counting the length of your inhales and exhales. After you feel comfortable and have a steady number, lengthen your exhale by 1 or 2 counts. For example, if you were exhaling to a 4 and exhaling to a 5, now you would inhale to a 4 and exhale to a 6 or 7. After only a short period of breathing this way, you’ll begin to feel more balanced and at ease.
3. It relaxes us. One of the most effective ways to relax at any moment is with conscious breathing. Our vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in the whole body, is primarily responsible for how relaxed we feel. When we stimulate the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain and winds down through the heart, lungs, kidneys, and pancreas, we stimulate the relaxation response. Deep breathing is one of the easiest ways to stimulate this vagal relaxation response.
Try this: Sit or lie down, place your hands on your belly, and breathe into your hands. Feel your belly expand like a balloon. Take in as much air as you comfortably can. Then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat for 3 breaths. Next, move your hands onto the sides of your ribs. Squeeze against your ribs as you breathe into your hands (this helps open up the rib muscles to allow you to take a fuller breath). Imagine your lungs filling up all the way from top to bottom. Exhale, and repeat 3 times. Last, place your hands on your shoulders and breathe into your hands. Fill your lungs and exhale. Repeat 3 times.
After breathing into each part of your torso, link these places of expansion together. Breathe first into your belly, then your chest, then your shoulders. Hold for a few seconds. Exhale from your shoulders, chest, then belly. Do this for 5 breaths. Notice how you feel.
4. It can give a much-needed boost of energy. While many breathing techniques are designed to help us unwind, there are also ways to breathe to increase energy. Our brains and bodies need a lot of oxygen in order to thrive. If we are in a stressed state for much of our day, it is most likely that we are not taking in a ton of oxygen. By increasing our oxygen supply, brain fog dissolves, our heart rate speeds up slightly, and our body fills with energy. We can also stimulate our energy levels to rise by breathing quickly.
Let’s practice Breath of Fire:
Breathe in and out through your nose. Push your exhale out with enough force to feel your abdominal muscles contract (not much force is needed, so approach this gently). Notice how your inhale comes as a response to that emptying of breath? That is exactly what we are going to do, just a little faster. As you speed up the rhythm of strong exhales and responsive inhales, you will feel your belly pumping. You can place your hand on your belly to connect more deeply with this rhythm. Breath of Fire is best done in short spurts when you are starting out, so practice it for a few seconds, then take a break by breathing naturally. If you get dizzy at any point, it is likely that you are taking in more oxygen than you are releasing. Take a break, and then try again with longer exhales.
5. It calms your kids too. Much of human behavior is influenced by mirror neurons, which are the reason you feel warm fuzzies when watching Noah and Allie fall in love in The Notebook, the reason you feel deeply sad when your friend comes to you crying, and the reason you get upset when your child has a meltdown. While these are automatic reflexes of the nervous system (our emotions and hormones literally mirroring each other), we are not at the mercy of them. The next time your child has a tantrum, try this:
Kneel down or sit on the floor, getting on your child’s level. Take a few slow, focused breaths, allowing yourself to tune them out for a few moments and connect with your inner peace. Visualize your body growing roots into the Earth for a deeper feeling of grounding. Hold this calm in the room. If your child wants you to hug or hold them, bring them into your arms and continue breathing deeply, keeping your focus on your internal calm. You will feel them begin to soften into you, their breathing rate matching yours, and their emotions beginning to cool. Invite them into your calm rather than joining their chaos.
These are just a few benefits of conscious breathing. Focusing on our breathing is the doorway to being present, choosing your thoughts, increasing your awareness, and becoming grounded in your body and life. Choose a few breathing techniques you like and start building a toolkit for mindfulness. The more you practice, the more second-nature these will become, and you will find yourself habitually anchoring into your breath at the slightest moment of disharmony around or within you, leaving you better equipped to ride the waves of motherhood and life with balance, grace, and ease.
Let us know which of these breaths you try! What was your experience?