Mindful Breathing: Savor Your Precious Breath
If we at Threes have learned anything at all during our years of practice, it is this: our breath is at the center of our health. And it responds directly to our attentiveness, as well as our lack of it. Mindful breathing is key to wellness.
We breathe more than we perform any other bodily function, yet chances are most people don’t give it much thought because … well … we don’t think it’s necessary: our breathing will just happen on its own regardless of what’s going on in our lives.
While it’s true that breathing is an automatic function that we don’t have to think about, we also know that mindful breathing plays such an important role in our body/mind/spirit connection, which, in turn, aids in movement efficiency. The science behind it is all there.
Benefits of Mindful Breathing
When we engage in mindful breathing as a regular practice:
- Our heart rate slows down.
- Our blood pressure lowers.
- The stress feedback loop is diffused/our body and brain relax.
- We’re able to move with greater efficiency by conserving energy.
- We can exercise more intensely (and with less likelihood of injury).
- We strengthen our core, improving our balance and stability.
- Our alertness and ability to focus improve/our brain sharpens.
These benefits (and more) of mindful breathing are so nourishing and life-affirming we can’t think of any plausible reason people don’t do it. Moreover, there are often great prices to pay when we don’t pay attention to our breath.
Why Don’t We Just Breathe?
We live in a high-tech world that actually distracts us from our deeper thoughts and feelings, encouraging us to repress heightened emotions. But what happens as you fight back your tears, stifle feelings of anger, or keep your pain at arm’s length? At the very least, your breathing becomes irregular, and, most likely, you start to hold your breath.
In fact, unconsciously holding your breath and/or taking shallow breaths while typing and texting have become so common today that there’s even a word for it: screen apnea. Like sleep apnea, regular breath holding or shallow breathing increases the risk of health problems like high blood pressure, stroke, headaches, depression, and worsening ADHD. The list goes on.
What Happens When We Don’t Breathe Well?
Even off the typing or texting screen, people are simply not breathing properly. Improper breathing can lead to respiratory issues like sleep apnea, asthma, and snoring. But there is another sizable population of people with fear-based issues like anxiety, agoraphobia, and panic disorders—people who breathe too much and through their mouths.
When people with, say, asthma or panic sense an attack coming on, they breathe faster and quicker, worried that they won’t be able to breathe. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy because guess what happens? That fear and anticipation will trigger the attack. Retraining themselves to breathe less, more slowly, and through their noses almost always has a very positive effect on their state of mind, and by extension, these attacks can be staved off and prevented.
Mindful Breathing Grows Your Breathing Muscles
Breathing is not simply a means to an end. It is so much more. In fact, it’s said that the way you do anything is the way you do everything. Paying attention to your natural breath can tell you about yourself, your inner truth. So, tune in to yourself and take notice. See if your breath tells you about the way you live. Learn from it. And continue to breathe.
The beauty of the mindful breathing practices that we teach at Threes (and do regularly every day) is their simplicity and effectiveness. These practices will grow your breathing muscles even if you only have five minutes to spare. They are designed to regulate fight-or-flight triggers in the brain and ease you into new habits that both feel good at the moment and can lead to lasting change (if you stay consistent).
4 Mindful Breathing Practices
- Waterfall Breath: Pausing as you exhale down the deep parasympathetic curve with evenly-divided breaths, this breathing practice has a relaxing yet restorative effect on the body.
- Ujjayi Breath: Inhaling and exhaling through the nose while constricting the throat; this technique regulates body temperature, releases tension, and improves concentration.
- Physiological Sigh: Doing a series of two rapid inhales through the nose, followed by a long exhale through the mouth, this form of breathing will promptly ease anxiety and stress.
- Elongated Breath, Gentle Movement & Self Compassion: Unwinding with focused breathing built into a mindful movement practice.
We recommend you carve out little pockets of time to build good breathing habits. But first things first: be aware of your own natural breathing. Then, using any of the above techniques, breathe your way through stress, aches, and pains. The science is there, and it continues to show the impact that mindful breathing can have on us, both physiologically (through stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system) and psychologically (by diverting attention from thoughts).
Don’t Waste Your Breath!
So don’t let your life take your breath away. Do the reverse: add breath to your life. Mindful breathing. Focused breathing. When you commit to a habit of checking in with yourself and then employing healthy breathing techniques, you will have developed skills and strategies for your life—off the yoga mat, at your desk, in the kitchen, at a gathering, or during a heated conversation. You get the point.
Don’t waste your (very precious) breath!