How often do you think about breathing? I mean REALLY think about breathing. Taking a breath. Inhaling. Exhaling.
For me, I think about it often. Breathing in some way has been a constant thought for me. Early on and throughout my life, I observed family members struggle with asthma or chronic bronchitis: my grandma, mom, brother, son, and grandson, and now I deal with these breathing difficulties myself. At the beginning of my professional career, I worked in Pulmonary Rehabilitation and learned a great deal about lung disease and how to assist patients with breathing to improve their quality of life. As a health practitioner, I educated others on breathing techniques and stress management. As a daughter, I watched my parents each take their last breath of life, and as a grandma, I watched two of my grandchildren take their first breath of life. Those last milestones I mentioned are times in your life that you must take a breath…or just breathe.
Today, with the pandemic, our world has changed. There are daily reminders in the news of COVID-19 attacking the respiratory system, patients being intubated, and shortage of ventilators. Life is difficult now and has turned our routines upside-down. Daily life is not the same and our lives have been affected. Can all this stop? How can we make sense of it? How can we handle it? It may seem to be spinning out of control… STOP… Just breathe!
I think of the song from Anna Nalick, “Just Breathe.” The songwriter describes the meaning of her song: “so ‘Just Breathe’ is really a song about accepting your situation and making the best of it and realizing that sometimes those things that hurt so bad are going to make us stronger and so much smarter, that we not only will not do them again but that we might learn from them and maybe help other people too.”
Well, there has never been a better time to “Just Breathe.” But is it as simple as that? The answer is: it can be. The breath is a remarkably powerful mind-body connection which we can use effectively to manage our physical and mental/emotional health.
When your mind cannot stop thinking, you can try to focus on your breath. You mostly focus on how your body rises when you inhale and how it falls when you exhale. Your thoughts go away because your mind is right now focused on your breath and body. It helps you to remain calm.
Breathing is automatic, however, it can be controlled or altered. There are several types of breathing such as diaphragmatic, controlled, pursed lipped, and mindful, to name a few. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress.
An article written in Mindful.org, by B. Grace Bullock, PhD, states, “Your brain is actually shaped by your thoughts and your behaviors, which is why stress can take a toll on brain function over time. While some studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help boost attention and keep the brain sharp as we age, we’ve yet to understand why that happens. A new study published in the journal Progress in Brain Research suggests that the answer to that question can be found by simply paying attention to the breath.”
Mental health practitioners have long recognized belly breathing as a method to reduce stress and anger, assist in overcoming fears and improve your relaxation. Physical health practitioners often point to shallow breathing as a contributor to poor digestion, poor sleep, increased blood pressure, a loss of mental focus, and a decrease in energy levels. They both are correct.
There are many forms of breath work – and I encourage you to experiment with several. Deep breathing and other forms of controlled breathing are a mindful practice that provides health benefits beyond the standard breathing required to live. With practice, you can train yourself in breathing techniques that reduce stress and improve certain bodily processes.
Best times to breathe: Before, during, and after a situation. And daily. Practice makes perfect.
Not sure how to implement deep breathing into your daily life? Below is a quick routine you can practice each day to remind you to breathe this way:
Over time, it should become more natural to breathe this way regularly.
My go to Apps for breathing are iBreathe, Calm, or Headspace. There are many on the market, so just find one that works for you.
There is a mind-body connection with breathing and effects on physical and mental/emotional health. Taking a breath allows you to rest your blood and brain chemistry. Practice breathing techniques and get some tools and tricks to help you. If there is ever a time to try breathing techniques, it is now. Just Breathe!