What could be more natural than taking a breath? It’s something we don’t often think about, yet it’s essential for life.
Breathing delivers oxygen to your tissues. Once inside the cells, it’s burned by your mitochondria to create water (for cellular hydration) and energy.
In addition to these purely mechanical functions, breathing—or rather, controlled breathing—can help reduce anxiety, depression, insomnia, and stress. And it’s been a part of numerous mind-body approaches for millennia…
Controlled breathing improves your mind and body
Using the breath to support mental and physical health dates back to the yogic tradition of pranayama in ancient India. The word is composed from two Sanskrit words: prana (meaning life force) and ayama (meaning to restrain or control).
In yogic teachings, the breath is defined as our bridge between body, mind, and spirit. And controlling it through pranayama was thought to increase longevity. In meditation, focusing on breathing anchors us to the present moment and allows our busy minds to let go of distractions.
The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that breathing related to the concept of “anima,” the spirit that animates all life in the cosmos. Plus, in Latin, the term spiritus encompasses the root of both spirit and respiration. And even in English, the word “animal” is used to describe all living creatures or creations.
Then, much later in the 1920s, the German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz created autogenic training as a method of relaxation based on deep, slow breathing. This approach is still probably the best-known breathing technique for relaxation in the West.
Today, modern scientists continue to study the effects of controlled breathing on the mind and body. And they’ve found that it specifically influences the vagus nerve, or “wanderer” nerve, the longest nerve in the human body.
As you may recall, the vagus nerve controls your body’s relaxation response—and influences, your mood. And helping to keep this nerve properly toned through regular, controlled breathing exercises can support mental health and happiness. Plus, people with better vagal tone typically respond better to stressful events.
Other studies show that controlled breathing can also help alleviate anxiety and depression in people who suffer from asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Breathe your way to relaxation
It’s actually very simple to incorporate controlled breathing into your daily routine. You can start with brief periods of conscious, quiet breathing several times a day.
Here are some other simple tips to get you started:
1.) Find a comfortable position
Find a comfortable, quiet place to practice your breathing. Then, stand up or sit up straight, since posture is important for breath.
2.) Relax your muscles
Try to relax your shoulders and the intercostal muscles between your ribs.
3.) Begin following your breath
Following your breath means simply observing your respiratory movements by becoming aware of each inhalation and exhalation. You can feel the sensations as air passes through your nose and throat down into your chest, causing movement in your abdomen. Focus on moving your diaphragm up and down as you breathe. Remember, you’re inhaling calm and exhaling stress.
4.) Count to three
Next, as your breathing deepens, try to pause for three seconds at the end of each inhalation, then exhale.
5.) Try alternating routes
You can also try breathing in and out through one nostril, while holding the other one closed with your finger. Then, reverse nostrils and resume. You can also inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other. Studies show that this kind of breathing has specific effects on different parts of the brain. (The new 6th addition of my textbook, Fundamentals of Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine, discusses these effects further. To find this book, go to www.DrMicozzi.com and click on the “Books” tab.)
6.) Gently bring the mind back
As you relax, if your thoughts begin to wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
Without a doubt, breathing is fundamental to life. But mainstream medicine and even many “natural-know-it-alls” fail to grasp its importance.
That’s why I’ve been working diligently on bringing together natural approaches to support lung health—and reverse lung diseases—in my new online lung health protocol. You simply won’t find this information anywhere else. So stay tuned… As soon as it’s ready, you’ll be the first to know.
In the meantime, you can read more about how breathing affects every aspect of your health in the upcoming May issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.
“Proper Breathing Brings Better Health.” Scientific American, 1/15/19. (scientificamerican.com/article/proper-breathing-brings-better-health/)