It’s as simple as paying attention to how you’re breathing.
While it’s not something we often pay enough attention to, how you breathe (drawing each breath into the lungs and releasing it) can have a significant effect on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. What’s more, it can reveal a great deal about your personality, how you’re choosing to show up in the world.
- If someone is exerting a lot of effort to inhale and exhale, they’re communicating a feeling (to themselves and others) that life is a struggle, that nothing comes easy, that you have to work hard to get anywhere in life.
- People with uneven breathing patterns—a short breath in and a short breath out—may be prone to anxiety or even panic attacks. They’re unsure of themselves, feel stuck, and may have a difficult time moving forward in life.
- Shallow, timid breathing—when we hold our breath or don’t take in enough air to oxygenate our bodies so they function properly—can reflect a sense that we don’t deserve to feel alive, take up space, be successful. This type of breathing contributes to low self-esteem, difficulty making decisions, not being assertive, feeling unsure or ungrounded, and a tendency to see the glass as half-empty.
A common one that most of us are guilty of—holding our breath and not relaxing the lungs enough to exhale—can actually limit our happiness and creativity. Constricting the breath can signal not letting go or delegating for fear of losing control.
On the other hand, breathing deeply—taking in as much oxygen as possible and expanding the lungs to the fullest—creates feelings of positivity and confidence, a zest for life, and a sense that you deserve to be alive and successful. You are not afraid to explore or take risks. Life feels full of expanded possibilities and you have the vision, focus, and energy to create whatever you put your mind to.
Two useful types of breathing exercises are: High Charge Breathing for activating the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) when you need energy, alertness, and mental focus and Belly Breathing to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) when you want to relax, feel calm, and avoid being reactive.
High Charge Breathing
- Stimulates the SNS that excites the body and activates the mind
- Helps for being more present, relational, attentive, and able to concentrate on the task at hand
- Boosts motivation, creativity, and productivity
- Strengthens capacity to change or regulate emotions by accessing and amplifying feelings, sensations, and emotions in the body
- Aids in assimilating and processing information to make better decisions (great for the ADD- or ADHD-challenged mind)
- Allows the brain to disconnect when stepping back, permitting a change in perspective that avoids impulsive reactions to situations
- Increases energy and endorphins that help alleviate depression and increase motivation, optimism, and happiness
Begin by relaxing your shoulders. Keep your eyes open and breath deeply into you lungs, expanding them as fully as you can.
Notice that when you’re consciously breathing, you tend not to concentrate on random thoughts swirling in your head or feel pain, agitation or stress in your body. You’ll feel more relaxed, alert, and alive.
“Research shows that breathing practices are powerful tools for getting present, focused, increasing well-being, and maximizing one’s potential.”
If your thoughts persist, try saying “Cancel, cancel.” Or visualize putting those thoughts in a canister, putting a lid on it and placing it on a shelf, to be retrieved at a more appropriate time. This will help you stay attuned to your body, focused on your breathing rather than in your head.
If you feel light-headed, it means there’s an imbalance in the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide. Your body probably isn’t used to so much oxygen from breathing so deeply, so build up to it slowly. Try starting out with five breaths and see how you feel before adding more breaths. If you get light-headed or feel a bit woozy, ground yourself by putting both feet flat on the floor and start looking around the room and naming out loud the objects and colors you see (e.g., “white dog, red flowers”). This will help you stay present and grounded in your body.
- Stimulates the PNS that calms the nervous system
- Relaxes tension and anxiety in the body; calms the mind
- Produces feelings of well-being and centeredness—great exercise to do before tackling a tough project, going into a meeting, or giving a presentation
- Helps reduce pain and de-activates pain centers in our brains
Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand on your lower belly, just below your waistline. The hand on your chest should not move as you breathe, while the hand on your belly should move rhythmically as you inhale and exhale. Your eyes can be open or closed. As you breathe slowly in through your nose, visualize the breath going into your belly as if you were blowing up a balloon. Hold your breath for a count of five. Then push the air out of your mouth as if the balloon is deflating, for a count of five. Hold for a count of five as you relax your shoulders and body. Inhale again…
You can alternate with five belly breaths and five high charge breaths to stimulate the SNS and PNS.
Research shows that breathing practices are powerful tools for getting present, focused, increasing well-being, and maximizing one’s potential.