This post about better breathing is part of the series I am writing sharing 13 lessons I have learned in the wake of the 2013 breakdown that ultimately led to my sobriety and this website! All posts are getting linked to in the first post in the series as I write them. Good breathing is one of the most powerful ways to manage stress naturally, but there are many other benefits as well!
When you were born, the first thing you probably did, if all went well at birth, was take a breath. After 9 months of getting your oxygen from your mother, I wonder what that first breath felt like!
You have continued to breathe, approximately 20 times every minute, ever since, and I hope that you continue to do so for a very long time.
So as you have clearly been breathing all your life, and don’t really need to think about it, because it just happens, why am I telling you to learn to breathe?
The wisdom of the young
The newborn baby takes a breath with the whole capacity of its tiny lungs. Each breath a young child takes completely fills the lungs on the in breath, and fully empties them on the out breath. They breathe deep down into the lowest part of the lungs, allowing their tummies to expand as they inhale. In doing this, they take full advantage of the potential of each breath, taking the maximum amount of oxygen it can, nourishing its body and brain, and fully letting go of the waste product, the carbon dioxide. I saw this in my own child when he was young.
As we grow, however, we change the way we breathe, and develop unconscious poor breathing habits. Posture, sedentary lifestyles, an aversion to letting our abdomen expand, stress all contribute to affect the way we breathe. We learn to associate breathing in with a sucked in tummy, and think breathing is something that happens in the upper chest only.
Shallow breathing and stress
This poor quality of the breath may lead to health problems such as panic attack, stress, asthma and more. Shallow breathing is a function of the flight or fight stress response, so puts the body and mind on red alert for stress at all times.
Learning to take control of the breath and take deeper, fuller breaths, allows you to calm this flight or fight response, and brings balance to the nervous system. Deep breathing is an effective natural stress reliever!
Developing a practice of better breathing, learning to take deeper, slower breaths at all times, leads to a much calmer state of mind. I have seen this in my own life. I still get upset and anxious about situations in my life and the wider world, but they no longer lead to me feeling constantly anxious and on edge. Better breathing has definitely been a vital aspect of my continued sobriety.
Learning to take deep breaths after a lifetime of short, shallow breaths can be challenging at first, but with practice and conscious awareness you will find that deeper breaths start to be more natural and easier.
As you learn to breathe better, you will find that this provides you with a powerful tool in moments of stress, sleeplessness and overwhelm.
Quietening the busy mind
Too often in our busy, over stimulating world, it feels almost impossible to find peace and quiet in the mind. This can lead to more overwhelm and stress, and exacerbate problems.
When this happens, you can turn to your breath to give you peace and stillness. Simply spending a few minutes focusing on the flow of your breath can bring you to a place of peace and calm in your mind, and allow you space to find a better way to respond to a stressful situation.
The phrase ‘take a deep breath and count to 10’ is an enduring ‘old wives’ tale’ because, like the rest, there is a great deal of truth in it. They were very wise, these ‘old wives’!
This works really well as an ‘as needed’ stress control strategy, but if it becomes a regular practice, you will find that your general state of mind becomes calmer and more at peace, and that stressful situations become less stressful.
Sleep like a baby
Stress and sleep are in constant battle with one another. Sleep can help to prevent stress, as it allows the brain to process life events in a healthy manner, and gives us the mental and emotional resources to deal with stressful moments, but stress can sabotage our efforts to get a good night’s sleep! allies.
Fortunately, the breath can be the knight in shining armour to help you in this battle. Slowing and focusing on the breath helps to calm the mind as I have already mentioned, and can also help to relax the body, making sleep far more likely, and making the sleep you do have more effective.
Do you want to breathe better?
There are so many reasons why learning to breathe is tremendously beneficial for body and mind. I personally think is it the most important part of my whole recovery journey, and the main reason I got, and remain, sober after 20 years of addiction. It is so important to me now that I got it tattooed on my arm last year!
My biggest passion and joy in my work is seeing the changes that happen in people when they learn to take deeper, fuller breaths. To see someone come to me with worries and overwhelm, then send them away feeling relaxed and happy gives such a profound sense of satisfaction!
For this reason, I have created the 6 week video course, Breathe the Stress Away. In this email course, you will be provided with weekly 30 minute practice videos which will guide you through a series of exercises that will help you let go of tension in your body, improve your breath and relax your body and mind. I teach a simple but powerful breathing exercise which, if practised regularly, will enable you to manage stress naturally, sleep better, feel more connected to yourself, relax and let go of tension and much more! Find out more, and get access, here
(please note that access is currently not automated, I will need to manually add you to the course. I will do this within 24 hours of purchase, and you will receive your first email at 6am your time, so that you can begin your day with your first practice!)