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all you need to know about the power of your breath

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

the breath is one of the most powerful tools our bodies possess. we take approximately 25,000 breaths a day which most of us probably don't even think about! our breath is the perfect example of our bodies being on autopilot - doing the work for us and providing the oxygen that we need to function whilst we are busy thinking about other things.

one thing that i can attest to on my personal wellbeing journey, is just how useful the breath can be. it is one of the few bodily functions that can be manipulated. if engaged in the correct way, the breath can help calm us down, stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system and lower our heart rate. when i started becoming more conscious of my breath, things really began to change for me.

my experience with my breath first started in early 2021. after experiencing symptoms of breathlessness, wheezing and a tight chest, i got in touch with my gp. i was told that my symptoms sounded like seasonal asthma and was prescribed an inhaler to use for the time being as restrictions meant that it was near enough impossible to be examined. i went back and forth for 9 months before contacting my gp again, asking for a more definitive diagnosis and to be examined. after several weeks of recording my peak flow before my appointment, asthma was ruled out. my doctor told me to stop using the inhaler and instead recommended some breathing exercises - in particular box breathing (also known as four square breathing) which involves inhaling to the count of 4, holding the for 4, exhaling for 4, and holding again for 4. the cycle is then repeated. it looks like this;

the doctor mentioning my breath to me made me question whether my symptoms were in fact a physical reflection of my mental state. i had become increasingly worried about my symptoms as well as processing a lot of change in my personal life and living through the pandemic like everyone else, but i had no idea that what i was predominantly experiencing was stress and anxiety. i started to take the idea of this more seriously and did a deep dive into all things associated to the breath.

my practice started with wim hof's 'guided breathing for beginners' - an 11 minute youtube video. for a few weeks, i was doing this everyday to help ease the pressure in my chest. it also allowed me to take a deeper breath, engaging the belly rather than my chest. my poor chest must have been exhausted (hence the aches!) from my existing dysfunctional, shallow and rapid breathing pattern. following on from this, i subscribed to a free course by nathan gallagher 'breathwork for anxiety' which was a 4 day combined theory and practical course all about the connection between our breath and anxiety. i was not only feeling calmer after completing this but the wheezing (which bothered me the most) had mostly subsided. i was also making a more conscious effort to breath through my nose rather than my mouth - which naturally slows down your breathing and helps your diaphragm to work properly. i found these exercises particularly helpful to do in the morning to set a relaxed tone for my day, going back to them whenever i feel particularly stressed, overwhelmed or anxious.

if you need more convincing about the breath and mental health connection, here is what the NHS have to say on the topic;

"a simple way to overcome the symptoms of “fight or flight” is to use relaxed breathing. the 'fight or flight' reaction makes our breathing shallow and rapid to increase oxygen, making our bodies ready for action. if we do not use this extra oxygen by running or fighting, there is temporarily an imbalance in the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. this imbalance causes many of the symptoms of anxiety. relaxed breathing helps by slowing down our breathing, rebalancing the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide."

source -

so, where do we begin tapping into this free and helpful tool? the best place to start is with some breathing exercises! here are a few techniques to try*;

1. ocean breathing (ujjayi) - traditionally used in yoga practice, the ujjayi breath is a meditative form of breathing and is known to be like a deep massage for your nervous system! to begin, inhale through your nose and as you exhale, direct the breath into the back of your throat - as if you are trying to fog up a mirror. we want to keep this breath deep and controlled, using only the nose. after a few rounds, you will notice the warming and calming effects of this technique.

2. box breathing - the diagram pictured above is the easiest way to follow this exercise. box breathing can be a helpful way to feel calm yet focused, as it slows down our breathing rate and deepens concentration. sequences such as box breathing also help to stimulate our vagus nerve, signalling to our brain it's safe to calm down.

3. alternate nostril breathing - a great way to balance your breath between your left and right passages. start by closing your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in slowly through the left nostril. then, close your left nostril and release your right nostril. you will then exhale slowly through your right nostril. the benefits of this technique includes lowering our heart rate and balancing our nervous system.

if you are new to these breathing techniques, it's important to start slowly. just repeating a few cycles of these different exercises can be effective. they are also good opportunities to practice engaging your diaphragm rather than using our chest and shoulders. try bringing your awareness to this area by placing your hand on your belly as you breathe, it makes it much easier to engage.

have you been underestimating the power of your breath?

will you be trying any of the exercises suggested above?

let us know in the comments, we would love to hear from you.

*disclaimer - don't forget that if you are worried about a particular symptom concerning your breath, always consult a medical professional. it may not be anxiety and/or stress related. these exercises may not be suitable for everyone so please consult a doctor before taking part.

stay well,

sophie x

founder of the conscious collective

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