A is for Awareness
Imagine for a minute that to maintain your vital oxygen supply, you had to remind yourself to breathe in, and then out again. During that minute, you would need to repeat the instruction about twelve times – that’s 17,820 times every day. Forget sleeping, and pretty much everything else. Fortunately your body doesn’t work like that.
Breathing is one of the body’s automatic and involuntary functions. Because we breathe without even thinking about it, we take breathing for granted and forget just how important it is.
What we do and how we feel changes our breathing patterns, and most of the time we don’t even notice.
Why is it so important to be aware of how we breathe?
B is for Body-Mind Connection
The answer lies in the link between the body and the mind.
When the brain registers stress, like fear, tension, confusion or anxiety, it sends a message to the body. If we are placed under stress, we breathe faster, take short and shallow breaths, or even hold our breath.
The process can also work in reverse. If we tune in to how we are breathing, we can calm and relieve our bodies while sending reassuring messages to the mind.
C is for Conscious Breathing
Conscious or focused breathing creates positive body-mind connections and contributes to greater wellbeing.
Every breath you take provides oxygen to every cell in your body. Shallow breathing typically involves only the chest and upper part of the lungs, so the body doesn’t benefit from the full oxygen content of each breath.
Deep breathing is often called belly breathing, because when you’re doing it properly your abdomen moves in with the out-breath, and out with the in-breath.
Try it. Place your hands close to your navel. Take long, slow breaths through your nose. The movement you feel is caused by the diaphragm, a wall of muscle below the lungs. When you breathe in deeply, it contracts, moving down and leaving more room for the lungs to expand and allowing air to fill the lower lungs. Now exhale slowly, also through your nose.
This type of breathing helps you to maintain an efficient oxygen supply, to energise you, to make sure your systems function well, and to promote your body’s natural ‘detox’ mechanisms.
But there’s more. The physiological benefits are just the beginning.
‘State of the heart’ breathing
In many cultures breath is also related to beliefs about the non-physical dimension. In Hindu culture prana is the essential life force. The prana is nourished by breathing techniques (pranayama). The Latin word anima means ‘air’ and ‘breath’, but also ‘soul’.
Deep, focused breathing brings emotional wellbeing. You can reduce stress and anger, feel more relaxed and experience feelings of greater tolerance, patience and love – for yourself and others.
Mindful breathing also helps you to be fully present in the ‘here and now’ and brings welcome moments of tranquillity in an otherwise busy and frequently noisy life.
Close your eyes. Place your hand above your heart. Breathe normally. Imagine air flowing through your heart – the very centre of your being. You might focus on a positive word or image to help you remain centred on the simple act of breathing.
If you practise conscious breathing techniques, even for just a few minutes each day, you might discover a world of difference.
It really is as easy as ABC.