Our breathing is the only part of our autonomic nervous system (the part that controls and activates our internal organs) that we have conscious control. When we breathe deeply and slowly we activate the part of this system that helps us feel calmer and less stressed.
When we get stressed the fight or flight mechanism kicks in. It’s an instinctual response and we can’t do anything to stop it happening. That’s actually important as it’s designed to do that as part of our brain’s survival kit. What we can do though, is to choose our response to that stress reaction.
When a trigger comes, we feel our body change – maybe our heart rate speeds up, our breathing becomes more shallow, we start to sweat or feel pains in our chest or stomach. That is our opportunity to start to breathe consciously, slowing it down, deepening it, focusing on coming down into our bellies with the breath rather than staying stuck in our chests.
The breath is the link between our mind and our body. When we consciously breathe in this way we are sending a signal to our brains, through our body, that it’s ok, that we are safe. It’s like an anchor in stormy seas. By consciously using our breath to go deeper into our bodies we feel more grounded and calmer, and it also helps us regain perspective on whatever is going on around us.
This is one of the most amazing benefits of conscious breathing, that as well as making us feel calmer, it also brings us a sense of clarity, the ability to focus our attention more easily, and to make decisions more easily.
Often when I do a ‘full’ Transformational Breath® session (an hour of ‘active breathing’ including an integration period at the end) I find that the integration phase is like a going into a deep meditative state. It’s a beautiful place of rest, calm and connectedness. I sometimes emerge from it having gained a deep insight about my life, one that I may need to think on more to really get all the juice from it, or one that I can use straight away as it has already shifted my mindset and I see things differently to when I started the breath session.
I like to think of this kind of breathwork as a gateway to the unconscious. We can see this connection even in the very words that we use to describe breathing – the terms inspiration and expiration bring a direct association to the idea of being inspired, being connected to something that is greater than ourselves.
It’s estimated that we breathe over 20,000 times a day. That is potentially 20,000 opportunities to calm ourselves, to reduce stress and to get clearer on what is important to us and the next steps we should take to achieve our dreams.