As babies we very naturally, very organically breathed full-bodied, deep-belly breaths. For most of us, as we grew into adulthood, we stopped taking deep, rich, full breaths.
There’s a reason why.
The breath and emotion are intricately connected. Throughout our lives, as we experienced the challenges, pain and even trauma that are a part of the human experience, some of the breath was lost. Because to breathe deeply is to feel deeply. To avoid feeling, we cut off the breath. This all happens on a subconscious level, with little or no conscious awareness on our parts.
We are a society that is confused by and afraid of our emotions... so we suppress them. This is indicated by the fact that anti-depressants are now the number one most prescribed drug in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But depression is not an emotion, it is the result of suppressed emotion. Emotion is energy in motion. That energy has to move. When it doesn’t, it gets stuck in our bodies and slowly we start to harden, tighten and contract around it.
In the same moment that we suppress emotion, we are suppressing the breath, and as a result most adults breathe very shallowly into their chests. The problem with breathing this way is that shallow, chest-breathing stimulates a bundle of nerves at the solar plexus which engage the sympathetic nervous system, or the fight or flight response. Just by breathing shallowly, we are actually increasing the level of stress and anxiety we feel in our minds and bodies.
When we relearn how to do something our bodies already organically know how to do, which is breathe deep into our bellies and all the way up into our lungs, we stimulate a bundle of nerves at the base of the spine which engage the parasympathetic nervous system, or the relaxation response. It only takes about five minutes for the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, but almost immediately you will feel the benefits of it. This technology was built into our bodies. It is impossible to stay stressed and anxious when we are breathing long, deep, full-bodied breaths.
Therapists know this, which is why one of the first things they do when working with patients suffering from stress, anxiety or even panic disorders is teach them how to breathe — how to deeply breathe.
Yogis refer to this as Long, Deep Breathe, or even 3-Part Breathing, because you are breathing into three distinct parts: first deep into the lower belly, continuing up into the lower lungs, and finally all the way into the upper lungs, chest and throat area — all in one deep, full breath.
A great way to re-establish a relationship with the breath, to slow down and deepen the breath, is to take a full count of 8 on the in-breath, hold for a count of 2 at the top, and then exhale for a full count of 8. Do this for a couple of minutes, and start to notice how the muscles involved with breathing begin to relax and engage in a much healthier way. Stick with it. If that starts to feel easy for you, begin to lengthen the breath to a full count of 10 on both the in and the out-breath. Eventually maybe even lengthening the breath to a count of 12 or 15. Take your time, be patient, and enjoy the vitality that comes with long, deep breathing.
When long, deep breathing is combined with movement, like yoga, you have a powerful formula for opening up the body and releasing old, outdated holding patterns that no longer serve you, and can access a greater level of freedom and ease in your body than you may have felt since you were a child.
Post sticky notes with the word “breathe” written on it all over the place — on your computer monitor, on your bathroom mirror, on the dashboard of your car — as a gentle reminder to breathe deep, rich, full-bodied breaths. And notice as your quality of life improves.
Erica Boucher is a Yoga Teacher & Trainer, Massage Therapist, Hypnotherapist and Life Coach. She is the creator of Empath Yoga, and author of Showing Up Naked: Peeling Away the Layers to Your Authentic Self; a book and personal development program. She leads workshops, retreats and trainings around the world. Find out more at www.empathyoga.com.