Physics tells us all life is energy. Every breath we take fills our bodies with life-giving energy, flooding our lungs with oxygen, and we release energy when we exhale. How many times have you sighed deeply on an out-breath, releasing tension? Hence the expression: ‘A sigh of relief’.
Surprisingly however, despite the fact that breathing is essential to life, it may surprise you to hear that many of us don’t breathe properly! We may not fill our lungs to their maximum capacity – just to the upper part of the chest instead of drawing the air down to our diaphragm. Not only are we depriving our bodies of life-giving air our literal ‘shortness of breath’ may contribute to our stress levels and have a negative effect on our overall wellbeing. This is why so many Eastern meditation techniques as well as yoga place so much emphasis on monitoring your breathing. It not only creates mindfulness and reduces stress levels, but infuses our entire being on a cellular level.
Take a moment now to look at how you are breathing just reading this article. Are you breathing deeply and does your abdomen extend as you take in a breath? Or are you suddenly aware of the fact that you are in fact taking only shallow breaths into the top half of your chest area?
Researchers have found that meditating and breathing techniques result in an improved immune system and can literally change your brains wiring. The areas in our brain which governs the ‘flight or fight’ response are the amygdala and hypothalamus. With modern-day living these areas can get over-stimulated – after all – you’d run away from a sabre toothed-tiger who wanted to eat you but you can’t run away from your sabre-toothed boss so easily! Studies have found that people who use mindful breathing techniques in meditation had increased grey matter in the hippocampus, the area responsible for learning and memory, and decreased grey matter in the amygdale. Proving that meditation can not only re-wire our brains but that it increases conscious control of our emotions and behaviour when it comes to dealing with stressful situations.
Now you’re aware of your breathing (or lack thereof!), there are various techniques you can employ. The most well-known is of course meditating for 20 minutes or so once or twice a day and keeping your attention on your breathing, pulling your attention back to it whenever your mind starts to wander. However, despite the well-documented benefits of meditation many feel they either can’t do it or it’s not for them. A technique known as ‘core’ breathing works just as well and you can do it anywhere and at any time. It’s often adopted by athletes. Just as in meditation you become aware of your breathing, drawing the breath down to your ‘core’ – the point in your body just above your belly button, and then exhaling. It’s that literal ‘deep breath’ we all take when we want to calm our nerves. The idea is to keep doing it and become mindful of the emotions we are experiencing as we do and releasing them with our next breath. This is real ‘energy’ work. So, if you practice this technique at work when you’re being given a hard time by your boss over a deadline you may note over time your responses start to change.
This technique not only enhances your general wellbeing but can set you on a journey of profound soul discovery as it opens up the ability to control your usual responses to situations – and when we change our responses we change the outcome.
So – changing your life – and your mind – really does begin with taking a deep breath.
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