by Tracey Sledge
How many times have you heard, “just breathe”, “take a deep breath”, “before you react, count to 10 with your breath” “when you get overwhelmed, just take a deep breath?” How may popular songs include references to breathing? “All I need is the air that I breathe” “Breathe” by Anna Nalick and I can feel you “Breathe” which won Faith Hill the number 1 song of 2000. My point is, breathing is one of the most powerful, yet taken for granted activity in our lives. It is both voluntary and involuntary, it supplies essential oxygen to our cells and removes CO2. Your breath is so important to optimal health.
In our yoga practice, most people begin with some sort of pranayama, deep breathing. Breathing deeply elicits a relaxation response, slowing heart rate, clearing thoughts, warming muscles and lowering blood pressure. It stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response), the opposing force to the sympathetic nervous system which produces that flight-or-fight response. Breathing increases your focus and allows you to remain present so as to explore the sensations your body produces while you practice yoga. It deepens the mind-body connection we seek when we practice yoga. Many people have re-connected to their breath through their yoga practice and it’s a powerful transformation.
David DiSalvo is a science writer and public education specialist who writes about the intersection of science, technology and culture. This is an excellent read which speaks to the five major benefits of focusing on your breath:
- Managing Stress
- Managing Anxiety
- Lowering Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
- Sparking Brain Growth
- Changing Gene Expression
Managing your stress has been proven to be an effective way to manage your weight. Stress produces cortisol, which causes higher insulin levels. This then causes your blood sugar levels to drop and you crave sugary, fatty (comfort) foods. So by deep breathing, you can manage stress levels and reduce your cravings for comfort foods which helps you make better choices.
So grab control of your breath with every breath you take. Stress is our reaction to outside forces and how we react is a choice. Your breath is your best friend when it comes to managing and choosing a more healthy reaction. A very wise yoga teacher of mine reminded me that yoga doesn’t necessarily make you a better person, it just makes you aware of when you aren’t choosing to be one. Regain control of your breath, make better choices and it’s a wonderful journey to a healthier, happier life.