On average we take approximately 23,000 breaths per day, some people a little less, some people more. Either way that’s a lot of breaths and mostly, we give them little thought. Yet, breathing is fundamental to life and to our health. The functioning of every system in our body from cognitive to digestion is enhanced by healthy breathing.
Breathing is one of many components of our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates certain body processes including digestion, blood pressure, metabolism and more. However, although breathing is mostly involuntary, it is unique in that we can bring it under our conscious control. We cannot make our body digest food quicker or alter our heart rate, but we can consciously change the pattern of our breathing and in doing so, we can impact our body & mind in a positive way. Effective breathing not only promotes a greater sense of mental clarity, it can also help you digest food more efficiently, helps you sleep better, reduces stress, enhances mood and more.
Research continues to prove the efficacy of good breathing, and conscious breath work is now widely promoted as a valuable tool for positively effecting our health (moreso since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the various respiratory problems it has created). While this is true, regulated breathing is a practice that needs to be approached with caution. If our baseline relationship with breathing is not good, (for many people it isn’t) regulated breathing can create tension and/or anxiety. It may even leave us feeling as if there is something wrong with us because we find it a struggle. This is one of the reasons why I don’t recommend learning breathing practices on YouTube, especially of you are a beginner!
What I do recommend, if you are new to breath work, is that you take it slowly and mindfully, allowing yourself to the time and space to just experience the act of breathing before you start trying anything fancy. This will help you develop a comfortable relationship with your breath which in turn will open the door to a more effective pathway to deeper practices of prānāyāma. Every step along the way should feel pleasant, easeful, and natural, not with the feeling that you are ‘trying’ to breathe well.
Here is something that you can begin with:
Each day set aside a couple of minutes preferably four or five times per day. Sit comfortably tall and simply watch your breath with a relaxed attitude. Allow your breath to be exactly as it is, without any expectation of how it should be. Just notice each in breath and each out breath. At any time if you feel uncomfortable with this practice, stop, and return to it later. Be patient and kind with your breath and with yourself. It’s a matter of softly, softly, catchy monkey 😊
If you continue to do this practice regularly, over time, you may notice that your breath becomes naturally longer and deeper and that you feel ready to explore breath work on a deeper level.
If you would like to learn more about breathing and how to positively effect your health through simple breathing practices, join me online for my next 3 week workshop on developing breathing skills: Mindful Breathing for Health.