“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh
It is very likely that you have never thought that a function as basic and automatic as breathing can affect not only your psychophysical state, but also your personality. Most people breathe inefficiently their entire lives and never manage to connect their physical symptoms, their anxiety and mental negativity with the way they inhale and exhale. Before I continue, take a moment to assess the quality of your breath right now:
Is your breathing fluid or erratic? Loud or subtle? Are you breathing through your mouth or nose? If you are breathing through your nose, can you tell if it’s through both nostrils evenly or does one feel obstructed? Can you expand your chest and belly when you breathe or do they feel constricted?
Becoming aware of your breathing patterns is the first step to overcoming chronic stress.
Naturally, there are numerous physiological reasons that can impede smooth breathing (eg, septum deviation), but if those are excluded, it is because of stress, anxiety, and fear that the body creates a variety of obstacles to breathing well. As they say in yoga, it’s not so much a matter of needing to learn a new way of breathing, but rather, removing the obstacles that prevent you from breathing correctly and abundantly (Yoga Anatomy, Kaminoff, Matthews, 2007).
In other words, it’s necessary to create space in the body through an elongated spinal position, relaxed belly and open chest area. Furthermore, for a more relaxed state of mind, it is recommended to breathe through the nose instead of the mouth, since nasal and mouth breathing induce the state of relaxation and anxiety, respectively.
According to yoga, breathing through the left nostril encourages relaxation, which is metaphorically called “lunar” or “feminine” energy, and through the right, incites alertness and action, corresponding to “solar” or “masculine” energy. Various yoga breathing techniques are therefore used for different purposes. However, for a balanced mind, one should strive to breathe evenly through both nostrils. If one of the nostrils is chronically blocked, this can alter one’s mood and behaviour.
It has been observed that people with a tendency to breathe through the right nostril tend to be more active and aggressive, while those who experience left nostril breathing dominance, are more calm, passive and inclined towards their inner world (Science of Breath, Rama and Balantine, 2007).
Therefore, if you are determined to regain your inner balance and mental clarity, start with breathwork, as a daily practice will help you:
- Reduce stress levels – Yoga breathwork activates the parasympathetic nervous system i.e. its rest and digest response. One of the key factors in this process is the vagus nerve which is stimulated by slow, controlled breathing. Therefore, yoga breathing techniques should become part of your daily routine, if you struggle with stress and anxiety. Similarly, you will notice that when you are upset, anxious or fearful, your breathing becomes shallow and erratic.
- Cultivate presence – When you become aware of your breath, your mind shifts from your inner dialogue to the present moment. Whether you have a tendency to flee, fight, freeze or fawn under pressure, learning how to control or manage your mind with your breath can help you get through some of the most challenging moments in life.
- Protect the body – Mucus produced by cells in the trachea and bronchi keeps the airways moist and helps prevent microorganisms and dust from entering the lungs. Thus, it can be concluded that the respiratory system has the ability to nourish the body with enough oxygen to keep it healthy and, on the other hand, defend it from environmental pollutants.
- Develop concentration & willpower – Breathing techniques require precision, a steady rhythm and repetition, which requires a lot of self-discipline and willpower. Continuous practice is not easy to establish, as the mind is fickle by nature and the ego detests monotonous repetition. However, it is precisely when we stick through daily practice, that the mind can be trained to focus and be still.
For more practical information on yoga breathwork you can purchase my book (click on the link below) or get in touch with me for private sessions.