Why taking a slow breath can save your day

Why taking a slow breath can save your day
The first and last thing that all of us human being do is taking a breath. It is a constant flow during the path of our lives. Every emotion, thought and change in the physical activity alters the way in which we breathe. When we are stressed, sad or angry our respiratory rhythm varies.

Think about it, we cannot stay more than a couple of minutes without breathing. Breathing is a unique process in the human body. Unlike, for example, other processes such as digestion, breathing has both an involuntary control mechanism as well as voluntary. So, luckily for us, it can shift between being piloted and being left on autopilot. Breathing is more than bringing air into our lungs, and eliminating carbon dioxide. During the inhalation, every cell in our bodies is oxygenated, exhalation helps in lymphatic draining and detoxes our body. Breathing is our primarily source of energy, it increases our physical vitality and helps us to re-establish emotional balance.

Even though is seems a normal and natural activity, we randomly dedicate time to learn more about it. As children, we breathed freely and using all of our body, you can confirm that by observing a baby while sleeping. Its belly will move in a constant and effortless motion. As we grow up and change the way we behave by adopting social patterns, we tend to loss connection with our bodies and emotions, and ultimately breathe in a short and totally isolated way.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you gave yourself a break and were breathing consciously? I mean when was a last time you focused on your breath with no mobile phone, laptop, TV or iPad?

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Most of the people cannot recall that moment. As simply as it can be, slow breathing has drawn the attention of several world-known universities like Hardvard, Standford and Oxford. There is an interesting research and applied activities based on conscious breathing, meditation and relaxing have been adopted.

Some of this research has highlighted the benefits of slow breathing as part of meditation programs. As a whole, breathing slow and consciously have showed beneficial outcomes in a holistic way, that means at the physical, cognitive and emotional level. As a summary it is worth mentioning is has been associated with an increased immune function, modulation of pain and improvement of the cardiovascular parameters and Autonomic nervous system (2, 10, 12). When breathing deeply and slowly, the supply of oxygen to your brain is increased and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness (4, 5, 7).

It has also been seen that slowly and conscious breathing contributes to emotional stability by realising stress and anxiety and favouring a more neutral vision of one’s emotions (1, 4, 8). Psychological and health outputs of slow breathing training are related to increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigour and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion (3, 6, 9 11).

Daily life activities such as study or work can produce stress, activation and physical and emotional exhaustion. Not breathing correctly has an impact in the flow of thoughts, in the way our minds organise the information, and of course in organic function of our body. The slow and conscious breathing will help us to decrease the activation, recover the balance, and better manage our emotions and focus in what we are doing (9,11). Breathings immediately connects us to the present movement, it focuses our mind in whatever activity we are doing and releases body tension, as well as automatic and intrusive thoughts and emotional depression. It is not surprising that relaxation and meditation are rooted in conscious breathing.

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Additionally, giving yourself at least a few minutes a day to breath consciously is a great start to self-awareness. You may find out that tai chi or yoga facilitate learning process as to how to breath in a healthy manner. You might consider enrolling to meditation classes. Time will tell, but meanwhile feed yourself with new energy and prepare to feel all the benefits of breathing.

Give it a try right now. Stretch a little your body as if you were waking up in the morning. Sit straight or stand still letting your feet apart some centimetres from each other. Close your eyes, and observe how the air comes into your body, observe how the air is going out. Just focus on that. Do not force yourself to take a deep breathe or change the rhythm of your breath. Keep your attention on your breath, every time you notice you loss the attention gently bring it back to the breathing process. Then prepare to open your eyes and end the exercise.

You can also practice as part of your daily routine, when having to face an important event or just before preparing to eat. Please keep in mind, practice makes perfect. As with any habit, daily practice will strengthen your ability to breathe slowly and consciously and be present at the present moment.

Catalina Arguello

1. Brown R.P, Gerbarg P.L. Sudarshan. (2005). Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11, 189–201.
2. Chang Q, Liu R, Shen Z. (2013). Effects of slow breathing rate on blood pressure and heart rate variabilities. International Journal of Cardiology, 169, e6–e8.
3. Hofmann, S.G., Sawyer, A.T., Witt, A.A. & Oh, D.(2010). The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169–183.
4. Hoge, E. A. Bui,E. Palitz, S.A, Schwarz, N.R,. Owens, M.R., Johnston, J.M., Pollack, M.H & Simon, N. (2018). The effect of mindfulness meditation training on biological acute stress responses in generalized anxiety disorder. Psychiatry Research, 262, 328-332.
5. Jerath, R., Crawford, M.W., Barnes, V.A. et al. (2015). Self-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 40, 107 – 115.
6. Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., … Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874.
7. Pal G.K., & Velkumary S, Madanmohan. (2004). Effect of short-term practice of breathing exercises on autonomic functions in normal human volunteers. Indian Journal of Medical Research. 120(2), 115-21.
8. Ramel, W., Goldin, P.R., Carmona, P.E. et al. (2004). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Cognitive Processes and Affect in Patients with Past Depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 28: 433-455.
9. Russo, M. A.; Santarelli, D.M. & O’Rourke, D. (2017). The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe, 13(4), 298-309.
10. Sunil, G., Gaus, G.S & Pal, G.K. (2018). Effect of Modified Slow Breathing Exercise on Perceived Stress and Basal Cardiovascular Parameters. International Journal of Yoga, 11(1), 53–58.Pal.
11. Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 353.
12. Zou Y, Zhao X, Hou Y.Y, Liu T, Wu, Q3 Huang, Y.H, Wang, X.H. (2017).Meta-Analysis of Effects of Voluntary Slow Breathing Exercises for Control of Heart Rate and Blood Pressure in Patients With Cardiovascular Diseases. American Journal of Cardiology; 120(1),148-153.

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