We all do it, and take for granted that it’s an autonomic function that doesn’t require thought, effort or control most of the time. We know that breathing fulfils the function of oxygenating the blood and is essential to survival. But how else is the breath important?
Breathing fully involves the belly, chest, back and mind and for many people this just doesn’t happen. Simply paying attention to the breath; noticing it’s depth and rate, can have a serious effect on the nervous system, particularly when breathing out slowly and mindfully. Shallow, fast breathing along with increased heart rate occurs as a stress response, in preparation for fight or flight. Of course, this reaction does not only occur in response to actual threats to our safety, it also happens as a response to life’s stressors, including any issues or traumas we haven’t yet worked through.
When we breathe out slowly and mindfully, greater blood supply is directed to the areas of the brain which control problem solving, and we can enter the state of social engagement. By connecting to the breath, we’re able to be more mindful and present with what is actually happening, rather than being caught up in the mental chaos that can distract us from being able to live in the moment.
So what is breath work? It’s the term for various breathing practices, exercises or techniques where the breath is consciously controlled. This practice of intentional breathing is used to promote a state of relaxation.
The most commonly heard of conscious breathing is “Pranayama”, often used in yoga, but there are several different techniques used nowadays as a means of therapy and self-healing. PTSD, anxiety and depression are thought to be improved through breathwork.
We can all benefit from harnessing the power of the breath as it can be a very simple yet effective way of dealing with everyday stress by calming the nervous system. It becomes easier to focus the mind and therefore we are able to function in a more productive and creative manner.