In our post on stabilisation and resource building at the start of therapy we touched on the empowering potential of tuning into our breathing, and the positive physiological implications which this can have to help calm the body and mind. We referred specifically to a technique which we teach our clients called Coherent breathing. By regulating their breathing to 5-6 breaths per minute, a person’s heart rate is complimented to the point that the parasympathetic system is triggered and their body and mind are able to enter a more relaxed state.
Breathing Awareness in Well-Being Practices
Recognition of the importance of breathing awareness is evident across many well-being practices. In some cases it is a technique which has been practiced for thousands of years. For example, the practice of Mindfulness has attention to the breath at its core, as the living embodiment of the here and now. If we can reside in the present, away from the uncertainties and stresses of future worry, or the doubts of thinking and replaying past events (neither of which we are able to change anyway!) we can find peace and settle, both in our minds and bodies. Similarly, in the practice of yoga which is based on ancient Sanskrit texts, control and awareness of the breath lie at the foundation of the principles behind the discipline. Yogis are dedicated to practicing the art of conscious breathing, and the wealth of writing on the subject within yogic circles concurs with the idea that breathing awareness brings profound physiological and mental benefits.
In his comprehensive article on the importance of breath in yoga, Amarjit Singh explains the process that occurs when we slow our breathing down:
“By changing the breathing pattern, you can produce different states of mind. Slowing down the breath has an impact on your emotional state. The cerebral cortex is activated through consciously slowing down the release of breath. Then the cerebral cortex sends inhibitory impulses to the respiratory center in the midbrain. These inhibitory impulses from the cortex overflow into the area of the hypothalamus, which is concerned with emotions, and relax this area. This is why slowing down the breath has a soothing effect on your emotional state.”
The writings within meditation circles give their own descriptions of the role of the breath in grounding, and empowering us. As the Buddhist monk, Lama Gursam, explains in his article on the importance of meditation, “breathing is the most important form of meditation practice”:
“If you keep focus on breath, in and out, naturally you will become calm. You will feel joyful and light. As you continue to meditate, that feeling will stabilize. Then a feeling of love and compassion will arise. Inner peace starts from there. Why does that happen? All the emotional upset has come out, so the mind is calmed.
In our work at the Oxford Development Centre we focus on building resources first with clients. In addition to Mindfulness and Coherent Breathing techniques we can teach a wealth of other breathing techniques often incorporating imagery to aid re-connection with the body, or to help release fear and anger, and to help with grounding.
Breathing Awareness Apps
Examples, like those above, show that there are a range of very established resources available to draw on when exploring the practice of breathing awareness. But there are also many new ideas for ways to practice breathing techniques with the advent of the apps available for our smartphones. A personal favourite of mine is an app called, My Calm Beat, which helps you calculate your most effective calming breathing rate, and provides tools to help you train your breathing rate towards your optimum rate. There are also very many mindfulness-based breathing apps, such as this one focusing on Yoga Nidra, which can accompany us in our attempts to focus on the breath and find relaxation.
We hope this article has helped inspire you to become more aware of your own breath. Breathing sounds like such a simple thing to stay in touch with, given that it is something we have to do in every moment of our lives, but it is surprising how easily we forget the importance of conscious breathing. By understanding the benefits of breathing with awareness, and then learning techniques to help accomplish it, you have a powerful set of skills to call on at any point at which they are needed in your own life.