The breath is one of our most important healing tools, and possibly one of the most overlooked. Breathing is something we do all day, every day, usually without conscious thought. Because it is so constant, it disappears into the background of our body awareness. When we consciously think about and change the breath, we are able to speak to the body in very profound ways.
The breath is one of the easiest bridges between the parts of our bodies that we can control and the bodily processes that are not conscious. It is a biological process that naturally falls into both categories, and so becomes a way for our mind to speak to our body directly.
Deep breathing: When we take a deep breath, it stimulates the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system that calms the body, helping us come out of a state of stress and distress, and move toward rest, restoration, and healing. Deep breathing helps reduce emotional distress and anxiety because it changes how those feelings are felt in the physical body. It can also help bring a sense of calm centeredness and overall wellbeing.
Breath awareness: Turning our attention to the breath is a fundamental mindfulness practice. When we pay attention to the flow of air in and out of our bodies, it cues the mind to tune into the present moment. This allows us to drop the anxiety and stress that comes with thinking about the past and future, and brings us more fully present to the physical reality of being alive. When we practice mindfulness like this, it can rewire neural pathways in the brain to reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and stress.
Breath in the body: The breath is also a physical event in the body, engaging a complex array of muscles and tissues and massaging the internal organs. Injuries, surgeries, and chronic stress can change the way the body breathes, which in turn can cause chronic tension and pain. Linking movement with the breath can help release this muscle tension and reset neuromuscular patterns. There are also breath awareness and breathing techniques that can help address structural issues like pain in the low back, pelvis, and neck and shoulders.
The breath is a powerful healing tool that allows us to speak to parts of the body that we cannot reach with the mind alone. By changing how we breathe and how we pay attention to our breath, we are able to counter the effects of chronic stress, reduce anxiety, release muscle tension, treat pain, and bring a sense of overall wellbeing.