When I talk about the need to learn to breathe, I am often met with confusion. People think, ‘but I don’t need to know how to breathe, my body just does it’.
While this is true, there are, in fact, many compelling reasons why you will benefit from learning how to breathe better.
Breathing is essential for survival. We can last a few days without water, and about 2-3 weeks without food, but how long can we live without taking a breath? Not very long at all!
So we know the body needs to breathe to survive. Thankfully, your body knows how to do that. We don’t have to put any thought into the breaths we take each day. You don’t have to learn how to breathe to simply live.
But what if you want more than that?
What if you want to thrive?
Learning to breathe well can help you achieve more than mere survival. The ancient Yogis knew this. When they devised the system of Yoga, they placed Pranayama, the science of breath control and connection, firmly at its heart.
Learning to breathe well has transformed my life, leading me to recovery from addiction and misery, and giving me resilience I never possessed before.
This is why I love to teach people to breathe. I know what it can do for you.
Here are 10 compelling benefits you may get from learning to breathe.
Reduce stress and anxiety
When we become stressed and anxious, one of the first things that changes is the breath. The stress response prepares the body for flight or fight. Shallow breathing is part of this response. Yoga offers many breathing techniques for stress reduction. By learning to connect to the breath, and to take control of your breathing, you can recognise this change as it happens. You can then take deep breaths to calm the nervous system and bring yourself out of this stress response. Taking these deep breaths can be all you need to change your response to a situation, to act in a calm manner rather than in a knee-jerk stress response.
Every single cell in your body needs to take in oxygen, and remove carbon dioxide to function well. This all happens through the breath. When we take in a good lungful of oxygen, and then release all the carbon dioxide in the lungs, we are feeding our cells all the good things they need. This means that every part of your body can function better, leading to more energy and effectiveness in your muscles, improved digestion, better cognitive function and much more.
Be in the present moment
It can be very hard to be ‘in the moment’ in daily life, with memories of times past, and thoughts of an uncertain future ever present in the mind. Distraction is all around us in the form of technology, 24/7 news and entertainment, and never ending advertising fighting for space in our minds. When you sit with your breath, you can let all that noise and distraction go, and simply be where, when and who you are. It can be hard to do, but the more you practice sitting with the breath, the more you are able to let go of the inner chatter, and focus on your breath.
The breath, the nervous system and the emotions are all intimately connected. Our emotions trigger responses in the nervous system, which impacts how we breathe. When you are able to take control of your breath, and change the way you breathe, you are able to impact the way that your emotions affect your nervous system.
Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy, said ‘Fear is excitement without the breath’. And how true is this? The same things are happening in the body when you are afraid as when you are excited. How wonderful to know that you can transform a negative emotion into a positive one just by taking control of your breath.
Mindfulness is a big buzzword at the moment, with many people realising that in a world that is so overstimulating, we need to actually re-learn how to get quiet and be in the moment. Taking a moment to pause and breathe deeply brings you firmly into the present moment and is mindfulness in action. Stopping to pay attention to this most basic of bodily functions is a masterpiece of mindfulness, and will give you the mental space you need in just a few breaths.
When you are able to manage your breath, you gain a very useful tool to help you manage life. Relaxed breathing is a valuable ally in the fight against insomnia, as I have learned from my own experience. I suffered with insomnia since childhood. As I grew up, I discovered that alcohol would “help me sleep”. It effectively, or so I thought, anaesthetised the whirlwind of thoughts that would strike as soon as I tried to sleep. Alcohol does not, in fact, help promote good sleep, but good breathing does. With breath control you can release the cacophony of mental noise that can keep you awake, and relax your body and mind to promote restful sleep.
Another feature of the stress response is tense muscles, as your body prepares for flight or fight. When you slow and control the breath, you allow your muscles to release their tension, sending powerful relaxation through the whole of your body. A post Yoga relaxation, possibly the most important part of a Yoga class, enables you to let go of any tension the postures have left in your body.
Breath control brings mind and body together for the benefit of both. You use your mind to control your breath, which relaxes your body. When your body is relaxed, your mind can relax too, and when the mind is relaxed, the body can relax.
It sounds obvious, and it is, but when you learn to breathe, you breathe better. This is profoundly important. As a lifelong asthmatic, I know that my life has been transformed by this. I am no longer at the mercy of the slightest wheeze. I no longer get anxiety induced asthma attacks, as I am able to breathe through any discomfort. While I do still need my inhaler, I know that I have tools to help me manage asthma now. When you learn to breathe well, you exercise the muscles in the respiratory system, making each breath more efficient, meaning your body gets more benefit.
How could learning to breathe benefit you?
As you can see there are many compelling reasons to learn to breathe. Research is uncovering ever more benefits we get from learning to breathe better, confirming much of what the ancient Yogis knew millennia ago. In my own practice I have also seen my skin improve, and know that learning to breathe was crucial in my recovery from alcoholism.
Amazing things can happen when you learn to breathe better. But it does need to be learned. Your body knew how to do it at birth, but over the years, you develop poor breathing habits and it needs to be relearned.
I love to teach this beautiful practice. The gains you will get from spending time learning to breathe are so transformative, it is a real honour to be able to share it.