The power of the breath The power of the breath

The power of the breath

The power of the breath The power of the breath

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” — Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

Navigating the stress and pressures of everyday life can take its toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. But there is one simple yet powerful tool to help us cope with stress that is often overlooked, the power of our breath. 

 

When we pause to observe our breath, listening and feeling our bodily sensations, we create space and time for our minds to relax. It takes practice, but we have the ability to discipline our minds to control our conscious breathing.

 

There is a difference between involuntary breathing, and conscious breathing. Conscious breathing is when you bring awareness to the timing and the location of where your breath originates in the body. The unconscious breathing we do on a daily basis is controlled by the medulla oblongata located in the brain stem. Whereas conscious breath is controlled by the cerebral cortex. This part of our brain is responsible for controlled thought mechanisms such as decision making.

 

By consciously slowing our breath and controlling its rate, our cerebral cortex is activated, which sends inhibitory impulses to our hypothalamus in the midbrain. The hypothalamus regulates emotional responses. By slowing these impulses, we also slow our emotional response. That’s why slow breath produces a calming and soothing state in our body.

 

“As we begin to re-experience a visceral reconnection with the needs of our bodies, there is a brand new capacity to warmly love the self.” — Stephen Cope, Yoga and the Quest for True Self. 

 

Below we have shared two breathing techniques we think will help to ground when you are in need of a little mental clarity. By learning new breathing techniques, we are in turn learning new ways to inhabit our own bodies.

 

Belly Breathing

—  Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly below your rib cage.

—  Inhale slowly for 5 seconds through your nose and feel the hand on your belly rise, but the hand on your chest should remain still.

—  Finally, exhale for 7 seconds through your mouth and allow your stomach to lower and your chest always remains still. 

 

photograph by Paige Melkerson, Carly Mccann Smith for Kye Intimates

 

When we are stressed the exhale becomes shorter than the inhale, engaging the sympathetic nervous system, speeding up our heart rate and our breathing. Stress hormones like cortisol start pumping through the bloodstream. When cortisol is elevated for too long or too frequently it disturbs all the hormonal systems of the body.

 

To counteract this tendency in the body, we want to consciously elongate the exhale. When the exhale is longer than the inhale, this engages our parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for rest) and inhibits our sympathetic nervous system (responsible for stress responses). Activating the parasympathetic nervous system slows the heart rate and relaxes the muscles.

 

Alternate Nostril Breathing

 —  Find a comfortable seated position.

—  Make a fist with your hand, and then extend your pinky and thumb.

—  Press your thumb to your right nostril and inhale slowly through your left nostril.

—  Hold this for a second, then press your pinky to your left nostril and exhale slowly and with control through your right nostril.

— Continue to alternate your inhales and exhales between each nostril.

 

photograph by Paige Melkerson, Carly Mccann Smith for Kye Intimates

 

We hope this article may help you to find peace and comfort when faced with stressful moments, using the tools and strength available to you within your own body.