To breathe is to choose to live. To breathe mindfully is to choose to live with purpose.
Sometimes when life gets really stressful, we can feel trapped or stuck. It can feel like we don’t have options, only to survive it as unscathed as possible. But we always have at least one option: We can choose to breathe. Just the act of choosing the breath can be enough to feel a certain reclamation over our life, but sometimes the way we choose to breathe can change the way we experience life itself. Below I’ve listed different breathing pattern types and how they change the body’s experience. Just slip these in your back pocket for a day you need to feel more control, choice, or calm.
The Big Release
This is the system reset. Take your breath from the chest and into the belly for the deepest breath you have taken all day. Exhale with an open mouth to release tension. Doing this will quickly lower your heart rate and jumpstart a healthier pattern of breathing. We tend to largely breathe using our chests, but this keeps our breath shallow, decreases the amount of oxygen that circulates through the body, and causes more emotional tension and stress. Give yourself a couple moments to breathe in deeply and audibly exhale and you will likely notice that after doing so your breathing switches to a deeper, more diaphragmatic pattern.
The Curious Breath
If you are feeling like you are watching your day pass without really feeling or engaging with it, then you may benefit from a more mindfulness-based way of breathing. Take just a few minutes to close your eyes and sit in silence. Then, without changing anything, just notice your breath. Is it in your chest or belly? What is the speed and depth? How does it feel in your nose and throat? Then, if you notice that you may feel more comfortable if you changed your pattern of breath, do so and take note of how your body physically changes. Combining breathing with mindfulness has double the benefits: lowering heart rate, decreasing stress and anxiety, along with increasing focus, concentration, productivity, and creativity.
The Controlled Breath
You have so many options when it comes to breathing, and if you’re feeling cornered or stuck in a certain aspect of life, you may try to experiment with any combination of the following:
The Slow and Steady
This is the tried and true pattern of breathing to help control heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and assist your immune system. If you are looking for a simple way to bring a sense of calm or don’t have the space to get creative with the above techniques, try closing your eyes and breathing in and out as slowly as you comfortably can. Try to make your exhales slightly longer than your inhales. Do this for at least a few moments and you may find this gives you just enough to persevere.
Let us remember that we may always choose the breath, and in doing so choose the lives we live. Namaste, friends!
Emily Wagner, trauma expert, yoga therapist, and mental health counselor provides education for anyone looking to improve their mental health.