So it might not come as a complete surprise that breathing is important. What may come of a surprise though is that most of us are doing it completely wrong.
Breathing keeps us alive, it is our life force and we really can’t go very long without it. The act of breathing for the most part is involuntarily. We do it without having to think about doing it. It is an ingrained reflex action. But despite it being the most important thing for our survival, the majority of us, except for a few elite athletes and yogis, are not taught to breathe properly.
From a biological stand point, breathing increases how much oxygen the cells are absorbing. So breathing deep, complete breaths is only going to do this more. Making the cells bigger, fuller and happier. More oxygen equals greater cellular regeneration. This means the blood carrying the cells is more vital and as this blood reaches the organs these get flooded with healthy cells.
From a psychological perspective; we know that holding the breath is one of the most likely anxiety responses. Have you ever noticed what happens to your breath when you feel stressed, nervous, anxious or panicked? You will most certainly have held your breath. Or at the very best been breathing just into the chest portion of the body as opposed to from the belly. So in reverse, breathing fully and completely will promote reduced anxiety, less stress, an ease of focus and even improved balance.
To prove the latter point, something you can try at home – take a simple balancing pose e.g. stand on one leg or with the foot pressing into the standing leg and the knee out i.e. tree pose in yoga. And then hold your breath. Notice what happens. Then try the same posture but take deep, long and even breaths. Notice what happens. I bet the second time round feels a little more stable.
So we can see breath is so important
But what about taking this even further. There is another subset of breathing that acknowledges a purpose beyond just healthy functioning. And this type of breath in fact has the potential to be transformational. Big words I know.
Conscious breathing as we will refer to it for the purpose of this piece is essentially any breathing that we do when we are thinking about breathing. Breath work, which is a practice of manipulating and working with the breath has become an entire healing discipline it is own right. Promoting spiritual awakening, self-healing and deep mediation.
And you can benefit from conscious breath in a small way all on your own. It is one of the easiest wellness practices to incorporate in your routine.
Here are two breathing exercises you can try at home. Make sure you are sitting comfortable and wearing loose clothing. The key with both of these exercises is deep belly breathing. So get happy with allowing your stomach to expand.
Square breath - Inhale for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and then hold the breath out for 4 counts. Repeat at least 10 times.
Exhalation breath – very simply, begin breathing deeply in and out. Start with an inhale for 4 counts and an exhale for 6. After a few rounds increase to inhale 6 exhale 8. And if this feels ok you move to inhale 6 exhale 10. Increasing the exhale kick starts the para-sympathetic nervous system and signals to our body to relax.
The great thing about incorporating conscious breathing exercises into your wellness routine is that overtime they will begin to alter the way you naturally breathe as well. So the unconscious breaths in between become more complete, fuller and ultimately healthier.
We would love to hear how you find these exercises. Tell us in the comments below!