Think about your breathing, become aware of how your breaths enter and exhale from your body. Notice how many times you breathe in and out during a minute. You probably haven’t even considered your breathing before in detail unless you have been exercising and then you become aware of how shallow it is. Throughout the day, we take it for granted.
It is known amazingly that around 70% of our toxins are released from our body through our breath. These toxins, carbon dioxide, is a natural waste product of our body’s metabolism, so breathing deeply helps us to rid our body of it, allowing our systems to work more efficiently. In contrast, oxygen is the most essential natural resource needed by our cells and the deeper we breathe, the more oxygen we receive.
Just think, we can go without food for up to 40 days, water for three days and yet we can die after just a few minutes of not breathing!
When we are not breathing correctly, and most of us are not, what we are actually doing is supressing our emotions. We mask our feelings by drawing in our breath and holding it because our breathing is our protection, it’s that short sharp intake when we are scared or shocked, when we are surprised. When we are anxious and our body is under stress, have you noticed how your breathing quickens? Anxiety, the fight or flight, instinctive response of a difficult situation.
Holding our breath and locking it away creates layer upon layer of built up emotions. When we hold our breath, it triggers the brain and prepares it to fight or flight. When we are stressed, anxious or upset, our bodies produce a chemical called cortisol and our central nervous system instantly tells our adrenal glands to release adrenaline. This rush of adrenaline is pumped around our body and as this adrenaline builds the more stressed we become. Too much stress encourages our bodies to shut down as high levels of adrenaline puts pressure on our internal organs and they simply can’t function effectively. Eventually we become ill or depressed.
Breathing deeply and rhythmically helps to increase the oxygen to the brain through our cells, giving us a surge of energy. Conscious breathing, as it is called, is a powerful way to flood our body with oxygen, recharging us at cellular levels, bringing healing, higher levels of consciousness, mental and emotional clarity and helping us to strengthen our connection with our self – understanding who we truly are.
A little science: The lungs are not muscles, they cannot move air without help. The muscles for the upper torso and neck only play a minor role and alone only allows us to breathe in small amounts of air – clavicular breathing (emphysema). The inter-coastal muscles that lie between the ribs, account of around 20% of normal breathing, but again, can make breathing laboured. Breathing in this way arouses the sympathetic nervous system and maintains levels of tension that sap energy and increases emotional distress.
It is the diaphragm that is naturally used to expand the lungs during breathing. As we breathe in the diaphragm contracts pulling down, which expands the lungs and at the same time the abdominal organs are compressed and press out against the abdominals. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, causing the ribs to shrink.
Another aspect to consider when treating anxiety and stress is the vagus nerve. This is a cranial nerve that runs from your brain through your neck and chest to your abdomen and is linked the effectiveness of our moods, heart rate, digestion, and immune system, in fact all organs which are affected by anxiety and stress. The name “vagus nerve” comes from the Latin word for wandering which is perfect as it has many connections and branches through the body, just like a tree. If you can visualise a tree, with its grounding roots spread wide beneath the ground, anchoring us to the earth. See the strong, protective trunk which is largely unbreakable in strength, bringing protection and the fine yet flexible and durable branches with their green leaves which absorb the air, sunlight and water for food. Then you can begin to see how the vagus nerve, like a tree is central and vital for balance and health, we can’t ignore the link between stomach upsets, palpitations, mood changes and poor health when we are anxious for a period of time. So it is important to know that research has shown it is possible to stimulate the vagus nerve through breathing, helping our organs to function better.
A Little Breathing Exercise
Light a candle to help you focus or close your eyes.
Become aware of your breathing, be aware of where you are and how your body feels and then begin to focus on every muscle, breathing into it and feeling it relax. Relax your feet, legs and pelvis. Relax your stomach, the chest, your spine and shoulders. Feel your neck and jaw relax and soften your eyes.
Now concentrate on breathing in through your nose and out of your mouth, repeat this several times as your body starts to respond to the natural rhythm of breathing.
Each time you breathe in, make it longer and deeper. (Don’t force your intake, don’t gasp or hold your breath)
Every exhale is slower and softer. (Don’t force it out)
See your breath like a circular motion, flowing in, wafting around your body, then releasing, being removed through your mouth.
Visualising a colour may help you trace the flow of your breath.
And just keep breathing, every time your focus shifts, bring it back to the breath., becoming aware of the rise and fall of your ribcage.
Slow, steady, rhythmical breathing. In and out, inhaling and exhaling.
(Continue for as long as you feel it takes to bring your body into a state of calm and balance. At least 10 minutes if you can.)
How amazing do you feel? Did you experience the rush of oxygen racing to your head, light-headedness maybe? Is your breathing slower? What about your heartbeat, is it slower too? You should be feeling calmer and relaxed, less anxious or stressed and be marvelling in better mental and emotional clarity.