Deep breaths are like little love notes to the body! I used to think this was some airy fairy pop culture nonsense, but I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation and controlled breathing and I can vouch for its effectiveness. My experience began almost a year ago, when
I sought a Mindfulness Coach as I was experiencing stress as a combination of physical and mental effects. Mine was due to a botched Phd (more on that later), however, regardless of where your stress is coming from, studies have found that the best way to fight stress is by clearing your mind in order to redirect the body’s chemical reactions.
In last week’s post I talked about five different types of controlled breathing as one of the simplest and most effective methods for clearing the mind. I want to explain a bit more about how controlled breathing can clear the mind and bring about a whole host of other positive benefits.
Increase intake of oxygen
In many cases stress and anxiety result as the body’s physical reaction to a lack of oxygen, which itself can result from many different causes. For some, it occurs when the body releases adrenaline and other hormones that increase the heartrate and cause more rapid, shallow breathing. It is also common for people to avoid deep breathing because it causes the stomach to extend, which can carry negative connotations in terms of image.
When you focus on taking deep, steady breaths that fill your lungs completely you drastically increase the amount of oxygen that you take in. More oxygen allows your body to send blood through the heart more efficiently and carry out many basic functions more effectively. When your body functions at optimum levels, you mind exists the heightened state of stress and is able to focus on other topics.
Lessen muscle tension
Controlled breathing also encourages a more relaxed state because the slow and consistent nature—and the increase in oxygen—decreases your heart rate. As your heart rate slows, your body disengages your muscles, which become tense as part of a natural response to stress that is meant to prepare you for physical activity. While in this state, your mind becomes overly focused on your surroundings and other thoughts, which further enhances the negative feelings of stressed. Relaxing your muscles with controlled breathing signals your mind that it, too, can relax and leave its state of heightened awareness.
Once you physically calm yourself, you can more easily clear your mind of stressful or worrisome thoughts and shift your focus onto more positive and soothing subjects. It is much more difficult to ease the mind when your body is in a tense and active state.
Shift your attention off stressors
Deep breathing helps you shift your attention in many different ways beyond simply initiating a physical signal to relax. A Harvard University study found that participants who used controlled breathing as part of a mindfulness meditation routine saw significant decreases in stress levels, tied closely to a decrease in stressful and negative thoughts.
This is because the actual process of breathing helps pull your attention away from the thoughts currently occupying your mind and initiating the stress reaction. Controlled breathing requires focus to fully engage your lungs and diaphragm consistently, which is difficult in a state of mental unrest.
As you focus on the breathing, that become your focus instead of the thoughts causing the stress. After just a few minutes of breathing, your mind becomes clearer and less distracted.
Stop the production of cortisol
Another way controlled breathing clears your mind is by decreasing the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Long-term exposure to this hormone can bring serious negative health effects, which include decreasing your concentration and altering the production of other hormones.
The breathing disengages your concentration on the thoughts of stress, which stops the brain from producing the hormone. As the cortisol leaves your system, you are able to let go of the stressful thoughts and focus more clearly on positive thoughts. Regular and deep breathing can even release endorphins, which boost your mood and your focus.
To be clear, I am not always in a state of zen – but controlled breathing combined with eating right (most of the time), drinking copious amounts of water, and yoga have literally changed my life. I’m now happier, healthier, and at peace with the world around me.
I hope this inspires some of you to take that first step and begin incorporating deep breathing and meditation into your own life. This is the perfect time to make the decision!
For yogic food posts see Five myths about diet and weight loss that you should ignore.
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