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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Walters

Importance of Breath: Part 1: An Introduction

"Breath of life..." (Oneness of Religions) "Breathed the world into being..." "...divine breath that gives inanimate objects life." What do all of these have in common? Breath. And yet, what do many of us do when we're stressed, scared, or angry? Not breathe. Hmm.. Interesting.


So what's so special about breathing -aside from the fact that it keeps us alive? Are there other benefits? Other reasons to cultivate breathing techniques and awareness? Yes! Allow me to share but an introduction to some of my findings. And while we do, let's try a tiny experiment. Observe your own breath as you read this blog post.



Breathing Benefits

There are various benefits depending on which breathing technique you utilize. Some general benefits of increasing oxygen to the brain and body include:

  • Increases cognition

  • Increases focus

  • Regulates emotions

  • Increases self-control

  • Energy management

  • Combats amygdala hijack (soothes fight or flight response)

  • Promotes deep sleep

  • Lowers blood pressure

  • Decreases pain


Scientific Backing

As discussed in our blog post about the Parasympathetic System, our body's fight or flight response over a continued period of time can take a toll on our immune system among other bodily functions. Breathing practices such as danjeon breathing and 4-7-8 breathing activates the body's relaxation response, switching into the parasympathetic mode which repairs and strengthens bodily functions. When the parasympathetic system is activated, the body's fight or flight response, aka the sympathetic system, is repressed. Both systems cannot be active at the same time in the body.


The aspect of supplying the body with more oxygen also increases circulation in the body, improving physical body functioning as well as clearing the mind of mental fog and decreasing stress and anxiety on an emotional level. To juxtapose this notion, when we're afraid or distressed, we take shallow breathes or may even hyperventilate. Less oxygen makes reaches the brain, inducing unpleasant sensations such as dizziness, lightheadedness, increased heart rate, tingling sensations, blurred vision, or others.


Breathing Techniques

Different breathing techniques to activate different parts of the brain or processing methods. Here are only a few techniques:

  • Alternating nostrils

  • Box breathing or Square breathing

  • 4-7-8 breathing

  • Danjeaon or Diaphragm breathing

  • Rhythmic breathing

  • Visualization breathing

  • Guided imagery breathing

  • Fire breath


There are of course many other breathing techniques depending on the purpose and discipline therein. And still others being developed.


Breathing Applications

These breathing techniques are usually developed for specific purposes which to regulate emotions and physical responses. Some methods are used in sports and martial arts to optimize the body's discipline and functions, as well as the individual's focus. In weight lifting and childbirth, you can coordinate inhales and exhales with rest and intensity of strenuous actions in order to optimize bodily functions as well as minimize the sensation of pain.



Additionally, different breathing techniques to activate different parts of the brain or processing methods. For example, breathing out of the left nostril activates the right side of the brain which is associated with thinking, while breathing out of the right nostril activates the left side of the brain which is associated with feeling. Breathing can also be used to activate different energies and emotions in the body. Short shallow breaths, similar to "Fire breath," will enliven energy while long slow breaths like diaphragm breathing calms anxiety and nervous energy.


Conclusion

In conclusion, there are many benefits to breathing and many breathing techniques for various purposes! The best part is that they're all free and easy to integrate at the desk, during massage, in rush hour traffic, while cleaning, exercising -anywhere! The benefits of mindful breathing are scientifically substantiated and cumulative as you incorporate them into your routine more and more. So tell me. What do you notice about your breathing now?







References:

Caldwell, R. (2021, July 6). How to Use Breath to Enhance Your Movement [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.dancemagazine.com/use-breathe-enhance-movement/#:~:text=For%20highly%20aerobic%20dancing%20that,flow%20in%2C%E2%80%9D%20she%20says

Gotter, A. (2018, April 20). 4-7-8 Breathing: How It Works, How to Do It, and More [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/4-7-8-breathing 

Happy Pathway: "A journey back to your SELF" (2020, August 2). Happy Pathway: The yin and yang of breathing [blog post]. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@HappyPathway/happy-pathway-the-yin-and-yang-of-breathing-3e9e4aa8cb2a 

Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874. Hu X, Beard K, Sherbel MC, Nascimento TD, Petty S, Pantzlaff E, Schwitzer D, Kaciroti N, Maslowski E, Ashman LM, Feinberg SE, DaSilva AF. Brain Mechanisms of Virtual Reality Breathing Versus Traditional Mindful Breathing in Pain Modulation: Observational Functional Near-infrared Spectroscopy Study. J Med Internet Res 2021;23(10):e27298 

Marklew, J. (2023). What is breathwork and how does it work? [blog post]. Retrieved from https://manahealthclinic.com.au/the-benefits-of-breathwork-for-emotional-regulation/ 

Matt Hinkamp (2020, April 6). Hapkido Danjeon Breathing [video]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/djh1Y8nJqGY?si=cG87NmUjgdCRkrzb 

Mosunic, C. (2023, October 16). Box breathing: how to do it and why it matters [blog [post]. Retrieved from https://www.calm.com/blog/box-breathing#:~:text=Box%20breathing%20is%20a%20simple,it%20in%20high%2Dstress%20situations.

Suseonjae (2021). What is Danjeon? [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.suseonjae.com/what_is_danjeon/

Vogel, K. (2022, March 3). How Can Breathing Rhythms Affect Your Emotions? [blog post]. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/change-how-you-feel-change-how-you-breathe 

WebMD Editorial Contributors (2023, June 27). What to Know About 4-7-8 Breathing [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-to-know-4-7-8-breathing 





Additional Sources:

Headfulness (2024). Headfulness - Luke Horton [channel]. Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/@Headfulness

Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

Tavoian, D., & Craighead, D. H. (2023). Deep breathing exercise at work: Potential applications and impact. Frontiers in physiology, 14, 1040091. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2023.1040091




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