The Power of the Breath

Apparently we take some 20,000 breaths a day, and many of us will be shallow breathing, using only our upper chest and not using our lungs to their full capacity. However, by changing the way we breathe, we can have a powerful effect, not only on our physical wellbeing, but on our mental and emotional state too. The way we inhale and exhale sends a message to our brain about what kind of state we should be in; relaxed or tense and ready for danger. When we slow the breath, fill our lungs and send the breath to our bellies, we supply more oxygen and send the message to our brain that we are calm. Belly breathing helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Once activated our heart rate slows, blood pressure lowers and our blood supply is directed to nurture our digestive and reproductive systems rather than our muscles and brain. The release of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol which flood our system during times of stress are also lowered.
How do I know if I’m breathing correctly? Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly. When you inhale you should feel your belly gently rise and feel it deflate on the exhale. Slow, rhythmic breathing is what you are aiming for. Feel any tension release as you exhale. To avoid over breathing make the exhale slightly longer than the inhale. One popular breathing exercise is 7/11 breathing – breath in through the nose for a count of 7 and out through the mouth for 11 counts. It will take time to build up to this, so start at a number which is comfortable for you – maybe try 3/7 first. As your lung capacity grows so will your breath. Meditation is a wonderful way to focus on the breath and practised regularly can help alleviate symptom s of anxiety and improve wellbeing.