In the grand theater of life, where we are both the actors and the audience, our breath is the unsung hero. It is the quiet, ever-present companion that accompanies us through every scene, every act, every moment of joy, sorrow, anger, and peace. It is the silent regulator of our emotions, the unseen conductor of our internal symphony.
The Power of Breath
Breath, the very essence of life, is often overlooked in its ability to influence our emotional state. As a counsellor, I’ve come to appreciate the profound impact that conscious breathing can have on our emotions. This understanding has been shaped by personal experiences and observations in my counselling practice.
Breath, or “πνεῦμα” (pneuma) as it was known in Ancient Greek, is more than just a physiological process. It is the spirit, the life force that sustains us. By becoming more aware of our breath, we can learn to regulate our emotions, manage stress, and lead a more mindful and balanced life.
Breath: The Calmer of the Nervous System
Our breath has a direct connection to our nervous system, specifically the part known as the autonomic nervous system, which controls many of our body’s automatic functions like heart rate, digestion, and yes, our response to stress. This system has two main branches: the sympathetic, which is often associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response, and the parasympathetic, which is linked to ‘rest and digest’ activities.
When we’re stressed or anxious, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. Our heart rate increases, our breath becomes shallow and rapid, and our body prepares to respond to a perceived threat. This is helpful in genuinely threatening situations, but in our modern lives, this response is often triggered by non-life-threatening stressors like work deadlines or traffic jams.
This is where the power of our breath comes in. By consciously slowing and deepening our breath, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the ‘rest and digest’ side. This helps to slow our heart rate, relax our muscles, and bring our body back to a state of calm and balance. This is the essence of the polyvagal theory in simple terms: our breath can help to regulate our body’s response to stress, promoting a sense of calm and well-being. So, the next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, remember the power of your breath and take a few moments to breathe deeply and slowly. Your nervous system will thank you.
Breathing While Under Stress
Consider a time when you were under immense stress. For me, it was during a particularly challenging counselling session. The client was resistant, the atmosphere was tense, and I could feel my heart rate increasing. I remembered the advice I often give to my clients – to focus on the breath. I took a deep, slow breath, filling my lungs completely, then exhaled slowly. I repeated this a few times, and to my surprise, I felt a wave of calm wash over me. My heart rate slowed, my mind cleared, and I was able to proceed with the session with renewed focus and patience.
Another instance was when I felt attacked during a heated discussion. My first instinct was to retaliate, to let my emotions take over. But then, I remembered the power of breath. I paused, took a few deep breaths, and felt my anger dissipate. I was then able to respond in a calm and composed manner, preventing the situation from escalating further.
Breathing In the Supermarket Queue
Even in mundane situations like standing in a long queue at the supermarket, conscious breathing can be a powerful tool. As the minutes ticked by and my impatience grew, I decided to use the time to practice mindful breathing. With each breath, I felt my impatience ebbing away, replaced by a sense of calm and acceptance.
Another situation that I find testing at times is when my daughter seems in a totally different universe: she doesn’t respond, won’t answer, refuses to do the little things I ask of her. As any parent knows, this can be incredibly frustrating. But instead of letting my frustration take over, I chose to focus on my breath. As I breathed in and out, I felt my frustration melting away, replaced by a sense of understanding and patience.
How To Do Breathing Right: The Breath of a Newborn
Deep breathing is a natural and calming activity that can reduce stress and increase mindfulness. It’s often compared to the breath of a newborn, which is deep, rhythmic, and primarily uses the diaphragm. This type of breathing is also known as belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. To practice this, one can alternate the in-breath through the mouth and the out-breath through the nose, or vice versa. This helps to fully oxygenate the blood, slows the heartbeat, and can even stabilize blood pressure. It’s a simple yet powerful tool that can be used to maintain balance and promote health.
And on and on it goes: Breathing Deep Breaths
In yoga, breath or “Prana” is considered the life force or energy that moves throughout the body. The practice of controlling this breath is known as “Pranayama”. Pranayama techniques are used to cleanse the body’s energy channels and balance the energy within. This is achieved by controlling the rhythm and depth of breath, which helps to calm the mind, reduce stress, and improve focus. The synchronization of breath with movements in yoga enhances the effectiveness of the asanas (poses), leading to a more mindful and balanced state of being.
The power of breath is immense, and its benefits are just waiting to be discovered.