Controlling your breath allows you to control your mind.
What if there was a mechanism we could turn to when we were worried, anxious, or afraid? Something that completely changed our emotions in an instant.
While we may not have the ability to change our emotions on command, we do have something that can make a big difference in our state if we choose to use it. This tool is our breath.
As a society, we’re just now beginning to grasp the full power of our breath. Here are some of the things we’ve learned so far:
1. Our Breath Can Put Us at Ease
This is probably, the benefit of breathing you are most familiar with. As a child, your parents or teachers may have told you to take a deep breath when they noticed you getting upset. Science has shown that slow, deep breaths put us in a more calm and relaxed state.
Our breathing rate controls our arousal levels. When we breathe faster we become more alert and enter a state of fight or flight. This can be very useful when we sense danger just around the corner. Many of us, however, find ourselves overly stressed or anxious from day-to-day. An effective way to counter this would be taking some time to concentrate on inhaling and exhaling slowly. Controlling our breathing gives us some conscious control over our emotions when we need it most.
2. Breathing Through Our Nose Improves Areas of Cognition
Yep, you read that right. The simple act of breathing through your nose can improve the function of your brain. The key to this improved function is the sense of smell. Multiple studies have shown that engaging our sense of smell can help us remember previous events associated with those smells. Think of the smell of grandma’s cookies or your favorite meal. What memories or sensations do they bring? Can you taste them? All these memories are strengthened by the sense of smell.
Research has now emerged that breathing through our nose engages the electrical signals located in this region, leading to improved memory and emotional processing.
As this article suggests, it’s like having a remote control for our brains. Not only are we enhancing our memory, but we are also improving our ability to recognize the emotions we’re having at that moment.
3. Focusing on Our Breath Can Improve Our Focus
At the heart of most meditation practices, you will find the practice of focusing on the breath. There are many reasons for this including the two listed above, but one of the most important reasons for doing so is it forces you to focus. Remaining focused is one of the biggest struggles we face every day. Work, chores, and conversations often require us to focus on a single thing for extended periods. If we want to do these things well and efficiently, we must hone a sense of focus.
The breath is one of the easiest things we have to focus on. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you will be breathing. You can focus on your breathing when you’re home alone, walking to work, or checking your calendar. We always have a chance to maintain awareness of our breath, making it one of the most useful sources of focus at our disposal.
4. Breathing Might Improve Your Health
As stated above, deep breathing can limit worry and anxiety from day to day, which could be enough to make a noticeable difference in your mental health. There is also a study that suggests controlled breathing could enhance the immune system and energy metabolism. This study is less proven than the others and should be taken with slight hesitation until other studies confirm or deny it, but it is an interesting possibility to consider. If these findings are repeated, that would mean controlled breathing is just as key to our physical health as it is to our emotional responses.
Breathing is one of the most powerful tools we have to control our current situation. When we feel ourselves entering a negative mental state, we don’t have to focus on external factors. Instead, we can return to our breath with the intention to create slow, controlled inhales and exhales. This simple shift could greatly decrease the amount of anxiety and worry we experience every day, improve our cognition, and fine-tune our focus. Perhaps the greatest tool at your disposal right now is the ability to control the air you take in and the air you let out.