• Reflective Resources

B is for Breathing

Updated: May 26

When the breath is unsteady, all is unsteady; when the breath is still; all is still. Control the breath carefully. Inhalation gives strength and a controlled body; retention gives steadiness of mind and longevity; exhalation purifies body and spirit”. Goraksasathakam


To breathe properly is to live properly; Change your breathing change your life


We breathe in and out about 20,000 to 30,000 times a day. We are effectively powered by our breath as our lungs fuel us with oxygen. It is important to make sure that we are breathing efficiently as every system in our bodies relies on oxygen. Effective breathing can not only help us experience a greater sense of cognitive clarity but it can also help us sleep better, increase our stamina, allow our body to function more efficiently or simply digest our food more efficiently.


Effective breathing can also improve our body's immune response, reduce stress levels and increase our sense of calm. When we become stressed or anxious, our brain releases the stress hormone ‘cortisol’, but when we take deep breaths our heart rate slows, more oxygen enters our blood stream and this ultimately sends a message to our brain to relax and this helps to lower our blood pressure.


Deep breathing has a second benefit too as it increases our endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemical which not only makes us feel better but helps us to cope with pain. As our muscles relax, this allows our blood vessels to dilate, which has the knock on effect of improving our circulation and again lowering our blood pressure.


Factors such as our breathing volume, rate and the muscles that we are using to breathe send a constant stream of information to the brain about our current environment. Our brain interprets this and makes an informed judgement about whether we should be ready for action (fight or flight) or chilling and relaxing (rest and digest). By understanding the breath and how we can modify our breathing patterns we are able to influence which state of the autonomic nervous system is dominant, or we can balance them out” Dan Peppiat


Posture is important to the breathing process. When we take a breath, we draw air into our lungs that contains mostly nitrogen and oxygen. When we exhale, we breathe out mostly carbon dioxide. Sitting up straight allows the lungs to expand quickly and efficiently and helps air to travel into the lungs and the carbon dioxide to travel out of the lungs unhindered.


Breathing correctly helps to strengthen our immune system. In order to carry and absorb nutrients and vitamins efficiently, our blood needs to be fully oxygenated; this helps to provide protection and reduce the time any illnesses remain in our system.


The breath is the interface between the mind and the body. It is affected by and in turn can affect both the physical body and our mental state” Dan Peppiat


The breathing process is in charge of 70% of cleansing the body of toxins (the other 30% is through the bladder and bowels.) It is essential that we learn to breathe fully, so it stimulates the lymphatic system correctly otherwise our body will have to work overtime to release any toxins and to detoxify the body.


When your world moves too fast and you lose yourself in the chaos,

introduce yourself to each colour of the sunset.

Reacquaint yourself with the earth beneath your feet.

Thank the air that surrounds you with every breath you take.

Find yourself in the appreciation of life.” Christy Ann Martine


I have been thinking a lot about my own breathing recently in relation to improving my general mental and physical health and have experimented with various calming breathing techniques not only to help me relax and reduce any tension e.g. when trying to sleep, or trying to understand something new, but also as a way to pause and re-centre myself when I feel myself starting to become agitated or uncertain.


Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

Thich Nhat Hanh


There are a multitude of breathing techniques and practices employed by all sorts of people and groups from all walks of life.


Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh


The simplest of which is just to breathe in and out deeply and slowly feeling your lungs expand and contract as you do so. I find this the easiest to do because it is simple and natural and there is nothing to remember or count. I also personal prefer the silence in my head. Sometimes, though I do vary this by combining it with authentic affirmations on the in-breath e.g. “I choose to express gratitude for all that I do have” and then exhale ‘negativity’ on the out-breath e.g. “I try to let go of dissatisfaction or frustration”


With every breath, the old moment is lost; a new moment arrives. We exhale and we let go of the old moment. It is lost to us. In doing so, we let go of the person we used to be. We inhale and breathe in the moment that is becoming. In doing so, we welcome the person we are becoming. We repeat the process. This is meditation. This is renewal. This is life.

Lama Surya Das


A well known variation of simple breathing is to breathe in deeply and slowly e.g. over a count of 6, hold for 6 seconds then release your breath again slowly over a count of 8. I particularly like doing this practice outside in the fresh air e.g. in the garden, at the beach or on top of a windy hill etc.


Conscious breathing heightens awareness and deepens relaxation”. Dan Brule


Another technique I sometimes feel useful when I feel my mind is spiralling is to ‘concentrate and count breaths’. The idea is to breathe in and out normally but think ‘1’ on your first breath out, ‘2’ on your second breath out, then‘3’ etc. all the way up to ‘10’. If (when!) your mind wanders, just start again until you can get up to 10 without distraction. This exercise (the group of 10) can be repeated until you feel relaxed.


“Breathing involves a continual oscillation between exhaling and inhaling, offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next…” David Abram


Breathing is not only related to our general health but to our ability to recover. With Coronavirus in mind, Dr Sarfaraz Munshi describes a vital breathing technique for Covid-19 sufferers that could prevent patients contracting secondary infections / pneumonia which could prove dangerous to health in this video.


The ability to breathe is a gift. Wake up grateful each day for that gift”.

Johnny Lung


Breath is essential for life but it is often used negatively.


"As you waste your breath complaining about life, someone out there is breathing their last. Appreciate what you have”. –Author Unknown


How are you using yours? Why not take a moment to


"take a deep breath,

pull in all of the air that you can

and hold it as long as you are able

then - let.it.go.

let it all go today. give your mind a chance to stop spinning

and your heart a few moments to find its steady beat again

the world has been moving so fast for so long and right now with these moments

you're taking back your power"

/topher kearby


Finally, to finish, there are also a lot of interesting quotes about breathing, which offer different perspectives on things that I had not even considered, including the following one about reflecting on others


I am never alone wherever I am. The air itself supplies me with a century of love. When I breathe in, I am breathing in the laughter, tears, victories, passions, thoughts, memories, existence, joys, moments, and the hues of the sunlight on many tones of skin; I am breathing in the same air that was exhaled by many before me. The air that bore them life. And so how can I ever say that I am alone?” C. JoyBell C.


Some questions to think about/or discuss below:


How often do you consciously think about your breath?


Do you use conscious breathing techniques? If so which and how have they helped you?


Can you share any additional thoughts or links which might be of help to others? If so, please do contribute below


To meditate with mindful breathing is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life” Nhat Hanh


Next time you feel anxious or unsure, try focusing on your breath, observe the speed and depth of your breaths, notice how they change, then experiment with consciously trying to adjust your breathing until you are relaxed again.


If you are interested in some more reading on the subject, here are a few links to get you started:


https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324417?

https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255?

https://www.healthline.com/health/diaphragmatic-breathing?

https://www.onemedical.com/blog/live-well/breathing-pranayama-techniques?

https://mamabee.com/how-to-perform-the-japanese-breathing-method-and-lose-fat/?



It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are... than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise.” Henry David Thoreau




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