Unless you have an illness or impairment that affects your
breathing, most of us take breathing for granted. We don’t give it much
attention. Breathing is a function of the autonomic nervous system,
which operates below our conscious awareness. In other words, your body
takes care of breathing for you, without you having to pay attention.
breathing happens on its own, why talk about it? Wouldn’t we be better
served focusing on more pressing needs, on issues that demand our
attention? Why do some consider conscious breathing as a key to health
and happiness? Why is placing attention on your breathing so important?
and foremost, breathing is the basis of your physical life. Your
official entry into this life is your first breath out of the womb and
your exit is signaled by your last breath. Breathing serves the obvious
function of bringing oxygen into your body and releasing carbon dioxide.
Yet breathing serves several other important functions.
regulates the balance between the two sides of your autonomic nervous
system, your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, or your “action “
and “recovery ” modes, respectively. When you inhale, your sympathetic
nervous system is activated; when you exhale your parasympathetic
nervous system is activated. Having balance between these two aspects of
your autonomic nervous system is crucial to physiological balance and
If breathing is so important and our bodies do it for us
automatically, what could go wrong? How can we get out of balance, if we
have this wonderful, automatic, balancing mechanism? Is there some
reason why our bodies stop returning us to balance? Why wouldn’t they
just keep doing their job?
The simple answer is that we give our
bodies too much to do. Our bodies do their best to keep up with our
demands. But, when our system is overloaded and stressed, this affects
the way that we are able maintain balance.
It can be hard to turn
down the busyness in your life and your mind. It can also be challenging
to deal with the feelings of anxiety that motivate over-busyness and
the exhaustion that results from it. When your sympathetic nervous
system is hyperactive from trying to “get everything done ” in your life,
your system can go into a state of constant overwhelm. Imbalance can
become a chronic condition.
Living in a state of “overdrive ” can
lead to many unwanted symptoms, including: “elevated heart rate, high
blood pressure, headache, temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ),
general muscle tension, pain, anxiety, worry, digestive problems,
incessant mental chatter, attention deficiency (inability to
concentrate), a lack of energy, and sleeping problems. It is important
to note that the state of the autonomic nervous system affects every
cell in the body! If the autonomic nervous system is on heightened
alert, every cell is on alert. ” (Stephen Ellliot, The New Science of
Are any of these symptoms familiar to you? Do you
ever feel like you just can’t get it all done? Do you feel that there
aren’t enough hours in the day or that your life is an endless “TO DO “
list? This experience of “constant demand ” is a dominant cultural
pattern. Even as you sleep, your body is processing the events of the
day. The end result is that your body is on sympathetic alert 24/7.
So what’s all that have to do with breathing? Again, we quote from Stephen Elliot in The New Science of Breath:
balance is governed by the frequency and depth of breathing. Optimal
homeostasis is literally dependent upon correct breathing. ” (p. xx, The
New Science of Breath)
Living in overdrive can lead to chronic,
shallow, rapid, and restricted breathing. Conscious, regular, deep, slow
breathing can bring you back into balance. You can use conscious
attention to breathing as a tool to bring you back to center, back into
the present moment, and back to feeling like yourself again. Conscious
breathing can help you access positive feelings of well-being. It can
help you connect with a natural state of happiness.
In addition to
the psychological benefits of breathing well, there is a wealth of
health benefits. The first, of course, is that when you breathe fully
you receive maximal oxygen with minimum energy output. You more fully
inflate your lungs and extract the most energy from each breath.
muscular action of breathing fully also massages your internal organs
and enhances the digestion and absorption of nutrients. The action of
breathing regulates your heart rate and blood pressure and communicates
this information throughout your body as a whole. This calms your
physiology and brings you back into balance. For these and other
reasons, breathing governs the effectiveness of most every physiological
From this brief introduction, I hope that you can see
the physical and psychological power of consciously breathing well.
Though you may approach conscious breathing at first for health and
happiness, attention to breathing is also a doorway to intuitive knowing
and spiritual connection. In Part 2 of this article, we’ll explore
three keys to optimal breathing for health, happiness, and spiritual
growth. I’ll show you how to practice better breathing.
To learn how to shift from a state of tension or negative
emotion to free up your breathing, connect with your heart, and generate
positive feeling, check out my free 7 minute release technique: http://www.energymeditationsecrets.com
Schoeninger graduated from Villanova University in 1986 with a Master’s
Degree in Philosophy. He is certified as a Reiki Master Teacher, Qigong
Meditation Instructor, and Personal Fitness Trainer.
worked with clients in the field of holistic fitness, meditation
instruction, and spiritual growth for the past 30 years.