Awakenings Wellness Center, Portland Oregon

Articles by our Therapists

A Breath of Fresh Air

"Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Posted 03/12/08 by Andrea Wright Anderson

Breathing is something we all do naturally, thus many of us never give it a second thought. As children we aren't taught how to breathe; it just happens. It is taken for granted by most until we encounter a problem, such as asthma or emphysema. Yet, breathing is the only autonomic bodily function which we can also wield control over.

Think about it. We can all see how our breath is related to our emotional state. Next time you are upset, angry or stressed, pay attention to the rate of your breath. Or the next time you watch a scary movie look closely at the characters breath. Hollywood uses the emotional connection of breath to their advantage. You will notice that the breath is quick, thin, irregular and quite noisy; it adds to the suspense. In the same vein it is near impossible to remain upset after gaining control of your breath.

In our day-to-day modern lives we have somehow forgotten the art of breathing properly. Most Americans do not take full breaths, but practice shallow breathing in the upper region of the chest. Native and eastern traditions have long known the importance of proper breathing and western medicine has begun to take notice. Pioneer of integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil, is one of the leading proponents of breath work, going as far as to say, "Indeed, of all the approaches that I have recommended to people for improving health, the single technique that I get the most positive feedback about is breath work."

The fact is breathing is the only way we can influence our autonomic nervous system (circulation, digestion etc.). Therefore, breath can be a doorway to improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, manage pain, asthma and hot flashes, increase energy and boost physical performance, all without the use of medication.

So the next time you are feeling stressed, take a minute to do a few deep abdominal breaths and notice the difference in how you feel. If you would like to learn more about proper breathing try a yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong class or check out a few of the resources listed here: Dr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody Tool Kit or his book Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing; Dennis Lewis' book Free Your Breath, Free Your Life: How Conscious Breathing Can Relieve Stress, Increase Vitality, and Help You Live More Fully; Gay Hendricks' book The Breathing Box: 4 Weeks To Healthy Breathing; or see info on with it's many resources on breath work exercises.

Source: Soaring Higher - March 2008

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