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The Power of the Breath

“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth” – Sanskrit proverb

In our busy lives, we rarely pay enough attention to our breath. With the pace of life increasing and stress levels on the rise, it is more important than ever to look at ways we can integrate more self-care into our daily routine and educate ourselves on natural ways to manage stress and improve our overall wellbeing.

One way to make a significant improvement in your physical, mental and emotional health is through the slowing down and deepening your breath. A valuable tool that is free and available at any moment, the quality of our breath, and the way it flows through our bodies has the ability to dramatically enhance or inhibit our wellbeing.

We inhale and exhale around 20,000 times a day, and for most people, their breath becomes shallower over their lifetime. Slowly but surely, shallow breathing and a tense disposition can become our way of being unless we consciously do something about it. When we are stressed or anxious, the first thing that is affected is our breath – the chest tightens, oxygen levels in the body drop and an anxious feeling takes hold. Knowing some simple breathing techniques will serve you well, especially during times like these.

Allowing the abdomen to rise and expand like a balloon as you inhale then gently fall back with a longer exhalation is one easy way to manage stress. There are many different breathing techniques, some quite complex, including powerful dynamic diaphragmatic breathing which activates the parasympathetic nervous system by stimulating the vagus nerve – the 10th cranial nerve extending from the brainstem to the abdomen that carries signals to and from the digestive system and organs to the brain. Breathing deeply evokes a feeling of calm and facilitates digestion. As you reduce the number of breaths per minute and move into a parasympathetic mode, your muscles relax, feelings of anxiety lessen and oxygen increases in the cells of your body. This in turn produces endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones.

Focusing on the breath also helps quieten the mind and brings us back to the present moment. When doing the breath meditation, if the mind wanders don’t give any attention to it, instead label it as just “thinking” and with loving kindness bring your awareness back to the breath and the present moment. The simple act of sitting with our natural breath in silence, accepting whatever rises moment to moment without judgement, absorbed in the now, is for many one of the most peaceful experiences in life. Over time, the wandering mind will settle as your breath becomes you best friend and the access point to a state of inner calm.

With our breath having such an impact on our daily life it is well worth reflecting on how you breathe and exploring the many benefits of a regular deep breathing and breath meditation practice.


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