Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
For me, the concept of wellness always starts with the breath… It’s where I go first thing when I settle onto my yoga mat, or when I’m out in the world and catch myself feeling anxious, fearful, sad or alone.
What’s striking is how simple yet profound this wellness technique is: Focusing on the breath, and breathing deeply, is the greatest cure-all in life. And the beauty of it is that it’s free, organic, easily accessible and has no negative side effects…
So how does it work? In very simple terms, there are two key benefits to focusing on the breath: First, it brings your mind into the present moment, allowing you to let go of outside distractions. Second, by deepening the breath, you trigger a number of important—and beneficial—physiological changes, such as reducing your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension to name a few.
Most living beings breathe automatically through no effort at all. But to truly achieve the wellness benefits of the breath, there are a few important techniques to keep in mind:
- The breath needs space. Try breathing deeply when you’re slumped over on your sofa… Your chest cavity is compressed like the letter “c,” which gives the diaphragm very little room to take in or release oxygen. That’s why it’s important to keep your spine lengthened by sitting (or standing) up straight, or by lying down flat on your back.
- Use your nose. Breathing through your nose is better than breathing through your mouth in many ways—from warming, moisturizing and filtering incoming oxygen to allowing the lungs to absorb more oxygen on the exhale. Nasal breathing also promotes deeper relaxation and stress reduction.
- Lengthen the exhale even more than the inhale. Deep breathing involves deepening and lengthening both your inhalations and exhalations. And extending your exhalations even a little more helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your rest, relaxation and digestion responses. For example, try counting to 3 on the inhale and to 5 on the exhale.
While we’re all born with unique talents and characteristics, the breath is the one universal gift of all beings. By bringing awareness to the breath, and breathing deeply, we can learn to harness its incredible healing power and live more fully.