Harnessing the Breath: Emotions, Wellness, and Deep Breathing

Deep breathing for deep healing

Once you realise that breathing is not just a reflection of your unwanted emotions or stress, but also a force to defeat them, half the battle is already won.

Life begins with a breath and ends with a breath. In between, lies your journey of countless breaths and innumerable moments, where each moment dictates the way you breathe. A fit of anger, for instance, makes the breathing heavy, audible, and deep. It is calmer and relaxed in happier times. Fear, on the other hand, turns breathing into a shallow rhythm. These are the emotions when you largely notice the ebb and flow of the air, channelling through your body—unless you have a respiratory condition or you have just finished a 100 metre lap.

For the most part, however, you seldom notice your breathing cycle. No one does for that matter, because no one can. We breathe around 17,000 times a day. No way, anyone can count every breath while running errands, doing laundry, cooking dinner, driving to work, and countless other daily chores. But just because you can’t count your breath, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to it. Breathing is not just a mechanism, with the sole purpose to run on autopilot so that you can continue your journey. It also has a gift of healing, something many of us are unaware of.

Breathing is more like a highway that connects mind and body, but it is not a one-way street at all. Your emotions affect the pattern of your breathing, but your breathing can regulate your emotions as well, as suggested by the study, The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. It is all about awareness and control. “Pay attention to your breathing” is a phrase you might have heard many times, from your gym trainer or yoga instructor. That’s because they know the importance of breathing when you exercise. But the power of conscious breathing is not just limited to physical wellness. In a moment of distress, controlled breathing can help you stay calm, restore the balance in your mind, and make better decisions.

Once you realise that breathing is not just a reflection of your unwanted emotions or stress but also a force to defeat them, half the battle is already won. For the rest, you need to take a deep breath. Yes, that’s it. A deep breath is all that it takes to stop anxiety, stress, or any other rogue thoughts from burdening your mind. It could be a meeting with your boss or an argument with your spouse, every time, stress tries to get the better of you, a few deep breaths can help you regain control over your mind.

Shifting from shallow breathing to deep breathing is quite a simple task and comes with a long list of rewards.

Wellness experts urge you to inhale for three to five seconds and exhale with pursed lips during any stressful situation. When you do this a few times, your brain initiates a chain of chemical reactions to heal you, leading to a sense of calm and composure. This has been proved by a joint study conducted by the professors of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, and Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program and Kellogg School of Management. The research establishes a connection between deep breathing and the region of the brain that manages emotions. What’s more, it is not just your emotions that are affected by deep breathing. Various studies reveal how deep breathing can also stimulate your cognitive capabilities, heal your body aches, and optimise your digestive system.

But this deep breath is not the kind you usually take when you see a loved one after a long time. Instead, it is a kind that you take consciously and repeatedly as if you are meditating, but with open eyes while doing chores and running errands. Countless people breathe from their chest, with short intervals of inhales and exhales that limit the efficiency of the lungs and brain. Deep breathing, on the other hand, stems from the abdomen that increases the oxygen levels in the bloodstream and triggers the secretion of endorphins, the healing hormone from the brain. According to research on deep breathing, when you take slow, deep breaths, you lower the risk of stroke and cerebral aneurysm by reducing the strain on your blood vessels that also keep your blood pressure in check.

Shifting from shallow breathing to deep breathing is quite a simple task and comes with a long list of rewards. To do so, take a deep breath from your nose to fill your abdomen, followed by the chest. Release the air slowly from your nostrils. Once you do this repeatedly and turn it into a habit, you will find a sense of calm rushing through your vein with every breath you take.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book, Stepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices, wrote, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Just like the bestselling author, conscious breathing can be an anchor for your wellbeing as well. In situations that bring anxiety or stress, which are perpetual in life, deep breathing can bring you back on your feet, and help you react constructively. A few deep breaths before you go to bed and after you wake up; when working at your desk or driving home through traffic; when you are sleep-deprived or just afraid; can empower you to face your challenges with newfound confidence. So, don’t let moments govern the way you breathe. Let your breathing control your moments, so that the bad ones can turn into good ones with one long, deep breath.


How does conscious breathing help with emotional and mental well-being?

Conscious breathing can regulate emotions, restore balance in the mind, and aid in making better decisions.

What are the benefits of deep breathing?

Deep breathing can induce a sense of calm, improve cognitive capabilities, alleviate body aches, optimize the digestive system, reduce the risk of stroke, and regulate blood pressure.

How can we shift from shallow breathing to deep breathing?

Take slow, deep breaths from the abdomen, filling it first and then the chest. Release the air slowly through the nostrils. Practising this habitually can bring a sense of calm and well-being.


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