The Healing Power of Breath
Psychological Counsellor; Clinical Psychotherapist
Life is in the breath. He who half breathes, half lives!
– Old Proverb
Breath is the cord that ties the soul to the body
– Brother Ramananda
Breathwork is the study and application of conscious breathing techniques to induce healing states within the body, mind and spirit. It is an important process when combined with psychological therapy to assist with recovery from depression, anxiety, and trauma.
The breath is the link between the body, mind, and spirit. With increased awareness and conscious breathing deep physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing changes occur. The aim of breathwork is to encourage healthier levels of self awareness, intentional living, and creative expression.
How we breathe has the most profound influence on the quality of our lives. It is something that we take completely for granted and yet the habits we form over a lifetime in the way we breath determines our health. Most importantly it is the balance in our breathing that gives us the correct proportions of oxygen, carbon dioxide and chi or prana (the vital life force) to maximize the nurturing and nourishment of our body mind and spirit.
It may sound strange to discover that most of us do not know how to breath in a way that best sustains our health and wellbeing. Often our family and societal conditioning can lead to situations where we constrict and regularly hold the breath, or over-breath habitually out of awareness, creating tension, anxiety, or panic in the body.
Restricting, suppressing and holding the breath through shallow breathing is often a way to inhibit feeling, holding tight to attempt to control situations and going into lock down. Tension is locked into every muscle. Chronic over breathing leads to a sympathetic body state that can trigger the flight-fight-freeze response in the body unconsciously, hyperventilation, and eventually panic attacks. All of this is going on completely out of awareness purely because of unhealthy breathing habits. Over time inappropriate breathing can lead to depression and anxiety.
Consider also that 70% of the body’s waste products are eliminated through the lungs, 30% through urine, feces, and skin. Imagine what happens with internal waste and toxins when breathing is restricted or irregular. Consider further that the brain itself in order to function properly needs 3x more oxygen than the rest of our other organs.
Additionally the most important source of energy we receive is not through the food we eat but through the breaths we take. When we breathe badly our bodies are not only denied sufficient oxygen from the atmosphere but we also deny ourselves chi/prana/pneuma the vital life force of the universe. This results in us losing out on our primary source of energy for our everyday living.
It is understood that stress is one of the leading underlying cause of a number of illnesses and disease in the Western world. Improper breathing results in stress within almost every major system in our bodies. Our bodies are then vulnerable to chronic and acute illness and disease. Some of these include respiratory illness, infections, constipation, digestive disorders, headaches, anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, fatigue, and chronic tension, poor blood circulation, elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation, brain fog, bacteria and viruses, and an acidic body environment.
Put simply conscious healing breath assists in reversing everything that stress does to our body and mind. We can learn to control how external stress impacts upon our body, mind and spirit in learning how to breathe correctly, detoxify the body and mind, and relaxing. Breathwork becomes a natural powerful self medicine when utilized correctly as it assists greatly in processing all stuck energies within the mind-body-spirit system.
Breathwork is also an important vehicle towards spiritual awareness and empowerment. Most spiritual traditions utilize breathwork in some manner as a connection with the sacred and an ecstatic reunion with a field of consciousness that some may refer to as Spirit, God/ess, Tao, Oneness, and Emptiness. Research has demonstrated that a natural outcome of breathwork is the stimulation of the longer brainwave patterns of Alpha, Theta and Delta. These brainwave patterns are associated with mediation, transcendent states of consciousness, and sleep.
Changing our dysfunctional and harmful breathing habits requires our focused attention, awareness, relaxation, patience and practice to bring about desired health improvements.
Correct breathing detoxifies every cell in the body and recharges our cells with new energy. Importantly for stress reduction and restoration of the nervous system correct breathing also activates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that runs from the brain nourishing all the vital organs in the body. This nerve is responsible for turning on the parasympathetic nervous system to induce relaxation and healing. It has a calming effect on the throat, heart and stomach promoting the health of our organs, and clears our lymphatic system.
Finally, whilst learning how to breathe more consciously is necessary for overall good health there are specific breathing styles for differing psychological conditions. Researchers from Italy’s University of Milan (Di Maro et al. 2011) demonstrated through multiple studies that there is a correlation between lung disorders and breath, anxiety and depression and that particular breathing styles improve health and wellbeing for differing conditions.
This is a fact that practitioners of Qigong and Yoga have known for centuries.
Knowing what breathing technique to facilitate for differing psychological states such as depression, anxiety, and trauma, is a skill. These are skills that can be easily learnt.
Some benefits of conscious breathing
- Cultivates inner stillness and presence
- Assist with processing emotions and mind energy
- Emotionally clarifies and integrates the subconscious mind
- Decreases stress and chemicals associated with stress in the body
- The respiratory system may be up to 85% responsible for pH balance in the blood that is vitally important for overall health.
- Increases relaxation
- Decreases pain
- Assist with alleviating depression, anxiety and trauma symptoms
- Accesses core belief patterns and allows for them to be re-evaluated, and where necessary released.
- Induces meditative and hypnotic states
- Re-harmonizes chemical, hormonal, and energetic processes in the body
- Assists with many health conditions such as hypertension, asthma, insomnia, cholesterol, digestion, and bowl problems. These are just a few.
- Strengthens immunity
- Assists in regulating weight
- Activates the lymphatic system’s pump thereby detoxifying toxic waste from our body-mind system
- Clears the mind from mind fog and sluggishness. Improves memory
- Feeds the blood so that in turn it may feed the tissues, nerves, glands and vital organs
- Accelerates healing
- Promotes personal awareness and development
- Develops spiritual awareness: It is the link between heaven & earth
Try one simple beginners breathing technique
Stop and notice how you are currently breathing. Are you breathing into your chest, diaphragm, or belly? Take note of how it feels breathing in the way you are breathing.
Notice how the rest of your body and mind responds to the way you are breathing.
Then become aware of the ground beneath your feet. Notice what it feels like to be connected to the ground beneath you. Do you feel the connection?
Allow the body to become soft just through stating “Relax Now” to the body. Speak these words directly to your body with conviction.
Then just simply intention and guide the breath without force. Breath In through the nose for a count of 4 or 5. See if you can guide your breath gently down into the diaphragm (the point of the solar plexus), or even down to just below the naval. Go gentle and just imagine this. Feel how the diaphragm opens and the belly fills with air like a balloon.
Then breathe out through the mouth (as if you may be gently blowing out a candle) long and extended breathe for a count of 5 or 6. Remember no force and no rush. Feel how the belly releases the air and contracts gently back towards the spine.
Repeat this process for as long as comfortable for you.
Then notice how you feel. There may be a slight feeling of light-headedness. This is not uncommon when starting to breath correctly. This will eventually settle and your body and mind will thank you for it.
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