I have talked many times about how valuable my yoga teacher training was, and obviously, that is because it has helped me in so many aspects of my life. Today, I want to talk about the power of breath-work or pranayama in yoga. There are many types of breath-work for the point of this article, and I am choosing to keep it basic and simple. By taking long, deep inhales and long deep exhales, I can lower my blood pressure and heart rate. This is important because when I start to feel the physical effects of stress and anxiety rising in my body, such as rapid heartbeat, clammy hands, digestive problems, tense shoulders, and headache, I can use my deep breathing to lower my stress levels and therefore feel better physically. The first step is to be aware of how I feel physically and mentally.
Why it Works
Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When I am triggered, my negative thoughts go into a heightened sense of emotion, or a state of fight or flight, and my sympathetic nervous system is activated. My thoughts become distorted as if I am looking into a mirror in a circus house — the objects are not as they appear, and we often say and do things we wish we had not.
By taking long deep inhales through my nose to the count of four, holding for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of six, and then repeating several times I can return to a calm state of mind returning to a sympathetic nervous system where I am in control of my thoughts and emotions.
I prefer that breath count, but I recommend that you play with the count and practice what you are comfortable with. Sometimes I take deeper inhales and exhales or hold longer. The point is to be consistent and rhythmic with it. It should become somewhat meditative, where the whole focus is on the breath.
Benefits of Deep Breathing
- Aids in Deep Sleep- breathing signals our parasympathetic nervous system which calms the body enabling deep restorative sleep. Practice deep breathing just before bed for excellent results.
- Activates and Promotes Deep Self-Connection- Connecting the body and mind through breath promotes self-love. We gain a deeper level of self-awareness and start to harness the power of the breath to reduce stress and tune out external chaos throughout the day.
- Reduces Stress- breath reflects our mental state. Rapid breathing signals stress whereas slow rhythmic breathing reduces the heart rate and shows a relaxed body and mind.
- Boosts Immunity- Diaphragm breathing expands our lungs, increasing oxygen absorption, lowering cortisol levels, and improving the autonomic nervous system — therefore improving the overall immune system.
- Digestive Support- When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, we cannot properly digest food properly. By taking slow deep inhales and exhales we not only increase the blood flow helping the digestive organs work more efficiently, but we return to that ever-so-important parasympathetic state.
- The Power of NOW- Our breath brings us back to present-moment awareness. When we feel triggered or upset, we can take our power back by using our breath. In the present moment, we are able to remind ourselves we are safe.
- Increases Energy-breath-work improves oxygen capacity, which improves energy and stamina.
Anytime you feel stress building or get triggered, harness the power of your breath to bring you back into present-moment awareness. Take long, deep inhales through your nose and long deep exhales through your nose. Take a moment to scan your body mentally and notice where you might be holding tension. Breathe specifically into those spaces permitting yourself to release that tension. Do this throughout your day. Consider saying to yourself, “Inhale peace. Exhale chaos. Inhale acceptance, exhale judgement. Inhale love, exhale love.” Harness this amazing superpower you have had within you the whole time. Check back with me and tell me how you feel when using this amazing power.