Developing breath awareness, and learning to breathe properly, is one of the easiest ways to improve your physical and mental health. It is a great testament to our ability to make things harder than they need to be that we often overlook this simple, commonplace thing that is easily accessible to us at all times.

Breathing high into the chest, breathing too fast, and shallow breathing are some of the most common ways to breathe improperly. These methods of breathing allow us to survive, yet not thrive. The goal is to return to a way of breathing that is calm and regular, flexible and automatic.

Important research:

  • In one study, four key emotional states – happiness, anger, fear and sadness – were linked to distinct breathing patterns. The researchers found that they could make people feel these emotions by teaching them to breathe in patterns.
  • Scientists that studied 45 people under a high level of stress, performing a 12 minute breathing and chanting exercise known as Kirtan Kriya daily for 8 consecutive weeks, showed positive health genetic engineering and a slowing down of the aging process.

Key points to remember to increase breath awareness:

  • Stop holding your belly in. when you hold your belly in, you force your weaker respiratory muscles to work harder. This is deeply tiring and inefficient.
  • Practice free breathing – your entire body oscillates, the movement of air travels sequentially through the body from the center outward into all directions it is calm and regular.

Non-optimal breathing categories:

  • Chest breathing
  • Reverse breathing (belly in on inhalation and out on the exhalation)
  • Hyperventilation
  • Throat holding
  • Breath grabbing – denying the pause between breaths
  • Frozen breathing – where the movement of breathing never reaches the surface of our bodies.

Steps to improved breath awareness:

  • Get into a comfortable position and take note of location of breath, origin of breath, frequency, phrasing of breath, texture of breath, depth of breath and the quality of breath.
  • Observe your breathing at different points of the day and in different situations.
  • Practice belly breathing.
  • Practice breathing exercises, such as alternate nostril breathing.

Psychotherapist and author, Nathaniel Branden, says, “When you deny and disown, the first thing you do is stop breathing. When you accept, you relax and breathe into – you open; you do not shut down.”

Any activity that encourages self-reflection has the potential to be life altering. Knowledge and awareness regarding your breath can give you a clearer perception of your feelings and emotions and having a sharper understanding of those things is a necessity for growth and optimal function.