"Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again." - Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathing is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do before we die. In between birth and death, we barely pay attention to the breath. But breath is not just the exchange of gases - oxygen and carbon dioxide. Breath is a tool to improve the efficiency of the body and the mind.
Breath - the holistic medicine:
Take charge of your breath to take control of your thoughts, emotions and body.
Take the unconscious process of breathing and make it a conscious process and notice how it benefits your mind, body and spirit. The pattern of the breath is dependent on physical activity as well as our thoughts and emotions. When tired, we yawn and inhale extra oxygen. When angry, we tend to have rapid and shallow breaths. As opposed to that, when calm, our breath is slow and stable. Therefore, if our emotions can control the breath, logically, by deliberately working on the breath, we can subtly change our emotions. If A=B, then B=A; if the way we think affects the way we breathe, then the way we breathe, will affect the way we think. Next time you feel anxious or stressed, bring your awareness to the breath. Watch it. Observe it. Gradually increase the length of inhales and exhales. Notice, how magically it brings peace and contentment.
Deep breathing has huge benefits for the body too. It balances the autonomic nervous system, improves the cardiovascular system, respiratory system and aids metabolism. Therefore, the breath can be intentionally used as a tool to increase the performance and capability of the body and the mind. Ancient yogis understood this and introduced "Pranayama", the science of consciously breathing in a particular way, which would enhance our health, emotions and spirit. What yogis have practiced and preached over thousands of years has been acknowledged by science too.
Scientific evidence supporting deep breathing:
Studies have shown the significant benefits of slow and deep breathing. "Controlled, slow breathing appears to be an effective means of maximising Heart Rate Variability (HRV). " Higher HRV indicates that the body has a strong ability to tolerate stress. As per another study, Pranayama breathing helps to "positively affect immune system, hypertension, asthma, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress related disorders." Additional studies have also shown that it reduces inflammation and stress.
So, among the many benefits of "Pranayama" below are some of the significant ones:
- Increases energy levels
- Increases the supply of oxygen to the brain
- Increases mental clarity and focus
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Improves posture
- Improves sleep quality
- Reduces anxiety and stress
- Reduces inflammation
- Stabilizes blood pressure
- Stimulates metabolic function
Practice - It's easy:
Deep breathing need not be daunting. Just practice this simple routine - Sit up straight with the spine erect but with the shoulders relaxed. Inhale through your nostrils to a count of 4, hold to a count of 1, and then exhale through your nostrils to a count of 4, hold again to a count of 1. Gradually, increase this pattern to 6-2-6-2 or 8-4-8-4.
This can be practiced for a few minutes every morning and evening. Or practice this as short one minute sessions when you would like to control the traffic in your mind and take an internal pause. Also read: Think less, think better, feel great
For an added dose of "Zen", use deep breaths along with this guided meditation.